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Derek Jeter Inspires Downtown Theater Series

By Julie Shapiro | July 21, 2011 11:54am

SOUTH STREET SEAPORT — Catch this, Derek Jeter fans.

A new series of plays at a downtown theater is putting the Yankees shortstop in a new kind of spotlight, with a tongue-in-cheek look at his superstardom.

The Algonquin Seaport Theater, on Pier 17, is soliciting one-act Jeter-themed works through the end of August and will perform the best ones for a few weeks in October, to coincide with the playoffs.

Tony Sportiello, the theater's artistic director, announced the series shortly after the Yankees captain reached his much-anticipated 3,000th hit earlier this month.

"You can't turn on a TV without seeing Derek Jeter," said Sportiello, who, for the record, is a Baltimore Orioles fan.

"Right now in New York, in sports or maybe even outside of sports, Derek Jeter is the most recognized personality."

The idea for the series grew out of a joke between Sportiello, playwright Paul Buzinski and actress Wende O'Reilly.

Over drinks about a year ago, O'Reilly, a devoted Jeter fan, begged Buzinski, an Orioles fan, to write a play about Jeter falling in love with her.

An amused Buzinski complied, producing a fluffy 15-minute script in which O'Reilly will play "Wanda," a hardcore Jeter afficionado who falls asleep after watching a Yankees game and awakes to find Jeter in her apartment. The two fall in love, and Jeter confesses that he is sick of being a famous baseball player and wishes he could just take a job in a coffee shop instead.

"We're enjoying skewering Derek a little," said Buzinski, 48, a Kips Bay resident. "It's good-natured, with some pokes."

In another one-act play, "3,000 Reasons" by Robin Rothstein, the ball that Jeter hits to break his record becomes a point of contention between a couple.

Rothstein, a West Village resident and Mets fan, said it was both fun and challenging to take inspiration from such a well-known figure.

"He's definitely an icon," Rothstein said of Jeter, adding that writing the play made her think about the ways in which celebrity and sports often become an escape from everyday life.

Some of the plays that have been submitted so far take on a sharper edge. One is set 50 years in the future and depicts a mean side of Jeter that only appears when the cameras stop rolling, Sportiello said. 

Sportiello said he admires Jeter as a player — particularly his devotion to a single team for the length of his career — but he dislikes the Yankees' excessive spending on players, which he said creates an uneven playing field.

But even if some of the more incisive jabs against Jeter and the Yankees make it to stage, Sportiello doesn't think the real Jeter would mind.

"It's all in good fun," Sportiello said. "I seriously doubt that Derek cares one way or another…. I think he'd get a kick out of it if he ever heard about it."