Wednesday, December 5, 2012


I read today that the oldest person in the world has died at the age of 116.  I figure that no matter how objectively I do the computations, I am on the other side of the hill.

I received a note today from an actor who is playing a lead character in the play, Betrayal, now being performed at the Huntington Theatre in Boston.  There was a movie decades ago with Jeremy Irons, Ben Kingsley, and Patricia Hodge that is based on the play.  I thought the movie was excellent as is the Huntington production.

The play is about an affair.  A woman is the lover of a man who was the best man to her husband at their wedding. There is betrayal on several fronts.  One could say that the best man betrayed the husband and the wife betrayed the husband.  The best man has betrayed his wife--though she never appears in the play. There is the suggestion that informing the husband of the affair would be a betrayal to the two who are trysting.

I received the note from the actor because earlier this month he had written to me when he had discovered that I play squash.  There are references throughout the play to the fact that the best man and husband were regular squash partners but were no longer playing.  There are other squash references as well, but I may have already given away too much of the play--though if you were to watch the film or the play you would see that all that I have written thus far one discovers early on.

The actor had never played squash and wanted to learn something about the game. So we went to Northeastern's squash facility. I brought my racket and we went on the court in our stocking feet. We didn't play but he whacked the ball a few times.  We spoke with some of the squash players on the NU team who coincidentally were gathering for their practice session just as we were leaving. After I saw the show I wrote to the actor congratulating him on a riveting performance.  And it was.  If I had not met him and seen him behave so differently I truly would not have recognized the character in the play.

In squash the only betrayal is legitimized by the rules. You can try to fake your opponent by appearing to hit the ball long, but instead softly banking it off a side wall. Such a shot is called, interestingly, a "boast."  But a boast in squash is completely legitimate. Players in squash are considered good sports, never trying to abuse the rules for advantage.  A very strange rule in squash allows a person to gain a point if she or he feels that an opponent is standing in the way of making a good shot.  Instead of pulverizing the opponent with a ball, the play stops and the player who is blocked simply gains the point.

I have written this before in this blog, but a key factor which accounts for the allure of sport is that the game and rules are indeed transparent.  Sure, some people try to cheat at all games, but squash in particular is a contest which tries to rise above the sordid games played outside the arena.  Professional football is a far more violent game, but even in this sport, we all know that you have four downs to gain ten yards,  and you cant get an extra one if you know someone or if a judge owes you a favor.  When the referees went on strike earlier this year it threatened the appeal of the game itself, because a number of games were decided not on the basis of the rules.  The Green Bay/Seattle game had such a bizarre inappropriate ending that within days, the strike was over as the league could not survive the fans' sense that a contest would be determined by inaccurate or capricious officiating.

Little in the way of betrayal in squash.  Lots when you leave the court.

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