In basketball, as Terri Mateer instructs in her solo show, a kind shot is one that touches nothing but net. No bouncing off the backboard, no clanging around the rim, just a sphere on a pristine trajectory that ends with a satisfying swish. Basketball was an integral part of Mateer’s high school, college, and young adult years, but the arc of her life was anything but clean. In an extended monologue that at times devolves into a bull session with the audience, then pivots into entertaining b-ball play-by-play, she recounts how the loss of her father gave way to a series of mentors, some wanting to help her, others wanting to help themselves to her. Though the dialogue could stand some tightening, and a director could help Mateer better realize the moments that call out for a pause, her saga, her stage presence and her intimate style of delivery bring home a win. The fact that her story is also one of outracing relentless sexual harassment, shows that her cultural timing is as strong as the pass timing of her youth.
Mateer’s real life often sounds more like a dark fairy tale, complete with a giant, a lost hero, impossible coincidences, a phallic talisman and, ultimately, a charming prince. Once upon a time, there was a Vermont girl who reached her full adult height of 6-foot-1 by the age of 12. Her father, a Phantom jet pilot, dies, leaving the girl in the hands of her hippie, pothead mother. Enter Ike, a boarder in their home who, before disappearing off the map, teaches court shooting skills to the young girl, instilling hoop dreams. Channeling his best Obi-Wan Kenobi, he does not tell her to “use the force,” but rather, simply, to “feel it.”
Soon, she is college bound, with the aid of a lecherous magazine editor who helps with her application. She switches schools several times when things turn ugly, foreshadowing the serial fleeing from the bad men that await after her scholarship expires.
Mateer is cagey about revealing her age, but her decision to become a pro player occurs prior to the formation of the WNBA. This means that she needs to join a European team. She opts for France and, before long, is sharing a bed with her coach. It does not end well. Next stop, New York City, where, in a fateful pickup game at the famed courts on Sixth Avenue and West 4th Street, she not only runs into Ike, but gets into a scruff with A.J., a man who, years later, will be her boss at an architectural firm in Chicago. Ike will lead her into a new career as a photography model, then almost doom her as a stripper, advising her to “lose weight and get pretty.” At A.J.’s firm she will help design a variety of odd architectural erotica before being molested by the boss, who then gifts her a plaster replica of a certain part of his anatomy. It will come in handy when she later files harassment charges.
That is a lot of material for an audience to digest in 75 minutes. Mateer starts off slowly, quizzing the crowd about their sports knowledge. But as her pace quickens, there is little time to absorb just how disturbing some of her experiences were. They register as waves of shock but then zip by with little reflection. There are also some loose ties and missed chances. We learn that the first word she ever spoke was “flower,” and a flower is painted on the basketball she handles as the production’s only prop, but no pleasing metaphors bloom forth. Also, happily for her, but confusingly time-warping for viewers, we come to learn that for the past 20 years she has been happily married to Brian, the pleasant gent doing double duty as house manager and light technician.
Mateer’s physicality is a great asset to her storytelling, especially in the strong final moments when she fully extends her body, proclaiming that she is a bigger person with her arms open wide. And her height is comically accentuated by the wee size of the TBG Studio Theatre. The space is so intimate she was compelled to say “Bless you” when an audience member sneezed just inches away from her. And at one point, to illustrate the distance of a jump shot, she had to open a door and step out into a hallway. That’s a traveling penalty in any venue.
A Kind Shot runs through Feb. 25 at the TBG Studio Theatre (312 W 36th St., 3rd Floor). Saturdays at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m., Fridays at 8:30 p.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m. For tickets, call (800) 838-3006 or visit akindshot.com.