Sheep's Clothing is open-hearted glimpse into man-land 

Be prepared to laugh at this tale of four gym teachers

The first time I saw the premiere production of Spencer Deering's Sheep's Clothing at PURE Theatre, I was so taken up with the story unfolding onstage — both by the playwright's work and the cast's self-assurance — that I welcomed this opportunity take a second dip at the well. On this renewed tasting, I found Sheep's Clothing equally refreshing.

"Locker-room anthropology," I called the play then. And I must say that now, the Piccolo Spoleto production is an even tighter-knit clash of wills. The ensemble cast have brought this tale of male dominance (and moral delinquency) into sharp focus, with emboldened humor and compassion.

Four high school coaches embark on this tender-hearted look at male foibles and follies, all trying to come to grips with the fall-out from a female math teacher's sexual liaison with one of their star athletes.

George (Nat Jones), the most senior of the tenured teachers, revels in poking the system in the eye at every opportunity. He's willing to go the distance in his ongoing shadow-boxing with unfair wages, ditzy regulations, and the endless round of academic committee-forming. Jones makes this the guy you want to have a beer with but don't expect to be mollycoddled in conversation.

Josh Wilhoit's Dan, on the other hand, is the likable guy who'd swing by your house with a fishing pole at 4 a.m., get you out of bed, and steer you toward the lake without batting an eye at all the trouble he's taking for you. Wilhoit owns this role and brings nuance to Dan's slightly self-conscious, puppy-dog amiability.

Steven (Brian DeCosta), whose troubled conscience is at the center of this free-fire zone, emerges as the wannabe-hero who can't quite pull it off. His idea of doing the right thing is almost entirely self-serving, and he undermines his colleagues at every turn the moment they refuse to play along. DeCosta does vengeful and sneaky with a keen, adroit glibness and style.

And what's not to like about Paul Whitty as Luggs? Who doesn't know an overfed, lumpish, loyal character like him? Luggs is the keen-eyed lifer willing to build a bullshit-free zone around his comrades and himself. "All for one and one for all" might well be his motto.

Plunged into all this turmoil is the school's principal, Jane (Pam Nichols). Jane has a classy intelligence and plenty of backbone to spare. Without a doubt, formidable is her middle name. When she and Luggs face off, they are as evenly matched, and the showdown is as eagerly anticipated as an Ali-Frazier bout.

Sheep's Clothing excels in every department. A great story, lovingly told, pitch-perfectly acted. Not to be missed.

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