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Arts and Entertainment, Reviews

Autobiographical play tells frightening tale

The story of the runt of the litter goes like this:

When a farmer breeds his best working dog, he looks carefully at the newborn pups. He ties a string around the neck of the smallest and weakest one. Once the dogs are weaned and ready to begin training, the farmer takes all of the dogs except the runt and drowns them in the river. Why? Because the smallest one has to work harder in order to compete, but once it survives, it becomes the best worker.

Bo Eason, former safety for the Houston Oilers, was the runt of the litter in his household, an inferiority complex that drove him to become “the dirtiest player” in the NFL.

His four-year experience playing pro football and his life growing up with successful older brother Tony Eason, NFL quarterback for the New England Patriots, and then the New York Jets, is the inspiration for the one-man play “Runt of the Litter.”

Eason came to Elon University on Nov. 9 as a part of the Lyceum series for a one-night only show. McCrary Theatre was dotted with audience members, mainly from the surrounding community.

According to Patti Gibbons, the associate director for cultural and special programs at Elon, the planning for Lyceum series guests begins up to a year in advance. Gibbons says that members of the Lyceum committee, which include professors from different disciplines as well as the head of cultural and special programs, decide acts to bring to campus based on both community and student appeal.

“The fact is that Elon is the largest arts presenter in the county,” said Gibbons, citing both visiting and student-performed acts.

Eason’s play, written and performed by himself, was highly autobiographical. From the intense competition and love he had for his brother, to his mother’s alcoholism and father’s distance were all based on true or near-to-life events. Eason played footballer Jack Ryan, who as a young boy drew up a 20-year plan to make it to the Super Bowl and win. Jack is frequently in direct competition with his brother Charlie for recognition in sports and at home.

Eventually, Jack becomes a hard-hitting safety, the last line of defense before the offending team scores. Eason callously monologued the most efficient way to sideline an opponent and spoke with barely controlled mania of how hard Jack, and, allegorically, he, worked to catch up to his older brother.

The play, a 90-minute long spectacle of one man’s inner thoughts, felt more like a conversation than a performance. Coupled with the ties to Eason’s own life, the single-set play was uncomfortably realistic.

Eason’s athleticism also made what could have been a stagnant scene infinitely more watchable. Despite the knee injuries that forced him to retire from the real-life NFL, Eason lithely crept around stage, using his body to demonstrate both the physicality of the sport as well as his emotions, flowing from each limb in direct transmission to the audience.

Many members of the men’s basketball team were in attendance and stayed for the after-show question-and-answer session with Eason. Freshman guard Gary Pope said he related to the story.
As a walk-on, Pope said that he has to work twice as hard as some of his teammates.

“I’m the underdog,” he said, “I have to keep playing whether I’m in pain or not.”

Also the oldest child in his family, Pope said that he is also like Charlie Ryan.

“My parents might go to my games more, and I might be a little more athletic (than my siblings),” Pope said.

“Runt of the Litter” is currently being developed for the screen, as well as Eason’s newest project, the true story of the 1924 Olympic rugby team.

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