Playwright Joan Ackermann uses comedy to explore the relationship of two very different sisters.
After Jack Wright saw ``The Batting Cage'' at the 1996 Humana Festival at the Actors Theatre of Louisville, Ky., he couldn't get it out of his mind.
``This play stayed with me in ways none of the other plays did,'' he said. ``I had admired (playwright Joan) Ackermann's writing for some time and the response to this play at the festival told me I am not alone in my appreciation of her work. Two years later, the play continues to haunt me and compels me to share it with audiences.''
Wright said the play, which ran for 1 1/2 months in New York, is a cross between Beth Henley's ``Crimes of the Heart'' and a female version of Neil Simon's ``The Odd Couple,'' with a little of John Guare's ``The House of Blue Leaves'' thrown in.
``The style of this play is different,'' he said. ``It's very funny with some great comic moments, plus it has a poignancy.''
``The Batting Cage'' tackles the subjects of family grief, guilt and reconciliation by exploring the relationship of two sisters, Wilson and Juliana.
The play opens with the two sisters arriving in Florida to scatter the ashes of Wilson's twin, Morgan, who died two years earlier from complications of diabetes. The sisters soon learn that the airline has lost the ashes, and that their mother, Rose, has been in a bicycle accident and will not be joining them as planned.
Wilson and Juliana's relationship is strained. Wilson is a bright, introverted woman who rarely talks about her life and has never gotten over her twin's death, while Juliana talks nonstop and is in the throes of a divorce. Both women are lonely.
``I like the play,'' Wright said, ``because it explores the core of relationships and what we mean or don't mean to friends and family. ... I like the vulnerability of the characters. They suffer at a deep level but they mask it.''
As the play unfolds, the sisters confront each other and, in the process, get to know each other better.
``We find out there are no accidents in the world, and it's very touching at the end,'' Wright said.
Cast members are Becca Booth as Wilson, Kate Turnbull as Juliana, Dora Naughton as Rose and Michael Senften, who plays all the male roles.
The entire play takes place at a Holiday Inn in St. Augustine, Fla., and the set reflects that in its details, from balconies with iron railings to mass-produced bed covers. Delbert Unruh, director of University Theatre, is overseeing the show's scenic design.
Amanda Staats is in charge of costumes and makeup, and lighting designer is Bill Nelson. Paul Meier, associate professor of theater and film, is diction coach.
``The Batting Cage'' kicks off University Theatre's 75th season at 8 p.m. Friday and runs through Oct. 24.
-- Jan Biles' phone message number is 832-7146. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.