Sunday, June 25, 2006

The World Cup or: the death scene from Camille

Headlong dives to the pitch, impelled by the slightest of brushes. Histrionic grimaces. Cries of pain. Wails that bespeak tragedy...

No, it's not Shakespeare in the Park, but the World Cup, showcase for the globe's most outlandish practitioners of melodrama -- world-class divas who would give any telenovela actress a run for her money in the exaggerated depiction of elemental human emotion.

Nary a contested ball passes without eye-rolling, head-shaking, Kabuki-like facial contortions, imploring of the referees as if beseeching the gods, and other tools of the thespian trade rarely seen since the advent of Stanislawski.

How did playing the death scene from "Camille" become an accepted part of the world's most popular sport? Can you imagine if an NFL player -- let's say an offensive tackle -- tried it? "O linebacker most foul! Who doth hold me when the zebra's back is turned!" (Oddly enough, diving is rather commonplace in that purportedly most macho of sports, hockey, but it's much less frequent, more often punished, bereft of other operatic mannerisms, and counterbalanced by the grudging acceptance of fisticuffs.)

I mean, do soccer players practice all that diving, wailing, and gnashing of teeth? For all I know, between youth soccer and international stardom, they go to drama school. Presumably some would prefer the Method technique, in which they are asked in class to "remember a time when your father tackled you from behind or your parish priest committed a flagrant foul." (Possibly: "Did you ever want to give your mother a red card?") Or perhaps each team has its own system of practicing ways to emotionally manipulate the ref. (Give him flowers, complement the way his legs look in those black shorts and lederhosen.)

Since soccer players are hams and the referees are apparently incompetent at their chosen profession (to judge from observation and the criticism from informed commentators), why not have the games mediated not by some corrupt ex-midfielder in cahoots with FIFA satraps, but by real drama critics? Ben Brantley. John Lahr. John Simon. Those kind of guys. Instead of keeping score by goals, they would judge the players like the contestants in "American Idol."

"Well, Brian, today we witnessed one of Figo's greatest performances as 'the midfielder who was tripped by a Dutch player standing five yards away from him.'"


"You know, Brian, Italy's star forward is no longer the capo du Totti capi of howling in mock pain."

Or maybe directly to the player:

"You call yourself a diver? I've seen corpses fall into the East River with more panache!"

The theater critics could impose their own carding system:

Yellow = failure to completely grasp character's inner struggles -- to send a long, overhead ball to his star striker, or stop and bitch at the ref for 10 minutes

Red = total lack of credibility when denying obvious hand ball

Purple = excessive crying at offsides call

Fuchsia = over-the-top goal celebration involving running halfway out of the stadium shirtless while miming a man playing a violin

Flaming Orange = calling the referee "Your Majesty" in an attempt to persuade him to award you a penalty kick

Pink = holding breath and turning blue to protest foul during stoppage time

Puce = for announcers who hold the word "Goooooooaaaaaallll" longer than Birgitte Nillson in a passage from "Tristan and Isolde."

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