by Robert Attenweiler · August 21, 2014
Too often, when we express admiration for an athlete, it all comes out in physical terms. We admire her grace or power or size or a chiseled physique that those of us in the stands quite knowingly lack and, in doing so, we elevate these athletes and their dedication to their bodies. They become impervious to harm – at least until their bodies prove otherwise. That strength – often called “heart” – is what that athlete taps into when she needs to get, say, a gritty stop on defense and help the team succeed. Off the court, though, this image of physical strength can just as easily become a mask, obscuring a less physical pain that is no less real. The journey toward this discovery is what Terri Mateer takes her audience on in her honest and affecting one-person show, a kind shot.
Mateer, a former professional basketball player, begins by standing alone on a bare stage dribbling a basketball. She soon rolls the ball aside and starts telling the story of her life and how a boarder in her childhood home named Ike taught a 6’1” sixth grade Mateer to play basketball. Having lost her father at a young age, Mateer quickly took to Ike as a surrogate. When Ike abruptly leaves her life, though, at least Mateer still has the game that he taught her. She dreams of using basketball to get a scholarship and become an architect. This dream leads her from Boston University to Florida State where she accepts a role as a walk-on before leaving the team to play as the only woman – and a white woman at that – in the city’s rough all-black inner-city league. She eventually gets recruited by the new women’s coach at FSU and, after graduation, signs to play professional basketball in France.
Most of these accomplishments, though, bring equally painful memories with them. Ike left (only to return later in her life and similarly disappoint), another man’s charitable act is quickly undercut by sexual abuse, and her career in France is soon derailed by a lecherous head coach. Through it all, Mateer keeps rolling – after France, to New York City then onto Chicago – seeing her dreams dashed at each stop – usually by manipulative men – and refusing to see the recurring pattern because such perceived weakness is the antithesis of the strong, tough image she has spent her whole life fashioning for herself on the court.
Eventually, though, Mateer is able to acknowledge all the ways she has been used and abused throughout her life but is able to still find solace and inspiration on the basketball court. Now, she sees playing as extending your heart out – of making yourself more present – rather than using physicality as a shield or a shell. These are skills that she now teaches to young girls, trying to be, for them, the great coach she needed at that age but could not find.
Mateer is incredibly honest throughout her story and she tells it in a spontaneous, off-the-cuff manner that immediately makes the audience comfortable. Even through some of her most shocking confessions, Mateer is able to keep the tone light enough so that serious moments can quickly be followed up with humor and laughs. Mateer is also a very present performer and seems to be experiencing the same moments of joy and pain from her story as the audience feels in hearing it for the first time.
a kind shot could still benefit greatly from more attention to shaping the story and finding a structure that lets the best moments of Mateer’s story shine brightest. Right now, Mateer spends too long on less effective parts of the story while glossing over a lot of details that could make the story even more unique and resonant. a kind shot tells a very powerful story, but Mateer hasn’t yet found the strongest version of its telling.
Still, a kind shot has real touch and scores with ease.