Entries in Steven Dietz (1)

Tuesday
Apr162013

Legacy of Jackie Robinson Hits Home at First Stage

Red, white and blue buntings hang from the balcony at the Todd Wehr Theater. The decorations proudly celebrate the First Stage Children’s Theater production of Jackie and Me, an all American story retelling how Jackie Robinson forever changed professional major league baseball by becoming the first African American on the field when he primarily played second base.

The First Stage production focuses on character and story instead of technical effects that splendidly affirms Robinson’s legacy. Only one wide screen is used to help project images of scenery and different places throughout the performance in a subtle way. Steven Dietz adapted Dan Gutzman’s tale about a young baseball fan, Joey Stoshach who travels back in time with the help of a Jackie Robinson Bond bread card.

Joey travels back to meet Jackie Robinson when he does a report for his school, and learns he and Jackie have tempers that need to be controlled before someone gets hurt. When Jackie is hired by Brooklyn Dodgers manager Branch Rickey to play in the majors against every odd that he will last, Jackie tells Joey, “Put your temper into playing the game. How are we going to fight? We put our fighting into the game.”

As Joey learns, Jackie fought unconscionable racism when he began to play, segregation the norm on and off the playing field, where even hotels refused to take him with the rest of the team. Front doors were closed while Robinson went through the back way.  Robinson counteracted this blatant racism with strong courage, perseverance and willpower---and his incredible athletic prowess. 

The production recalls Robinson’s amazing  Baseball statistics through the story, for one when he became Rookie of the Year in 1947, primarily told through Joey’s voice when he narrates his time travel journey while he grows in understanding to the racial prejudice at the time. When Joey goes back to 1947, he is seen as a young African American boy. One of the most poignant scenes in the play happens when Joey tries to drink from a “Whites Only” water fountain. A woman spits at him, and her male companion harasses Joey, and he unfortunately learns when hate can be seen in another human being’s eyes.

Chauncy Thomas recreates the Jackie Robinson persona with fierce and gentlemanly elegance, even when running bases in slow motion. And he’s a great match with Tiffany Yvonne Cox playing his wife Rae who supported him even though fears for their lives, death threats, accompany Robinson when he takes the field. On Saturday, the Dodgers Young Performers cast Seth Horne as a Joey with believability in a role that requires him to be on stage for the entire performance. Georgina Mckee underplays Joey’s mom with reserved emotion, trying to help Joey calm his own anger.

Even when the audience knows the outcome of how an exceptional Robinson was voted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame and transformed the faces of the Major Leagues, experiencing this live on stage makes confronting Robinson’s horrific challenges more powerful. A great story for “boys’” of any age or the girls sitting in the last row of the theatre who played softball, equally excited about the Jackie and Me production.

Baseball, like life itself, is a day to day game worth playing. Sometimes one strikes out and at others, hits a home run where dreams do come true, as they did for Jackie because of his commitment and dedication. As baseball season returns to the stadiums around the country for another year, commit to seeing this beautifully conceived First Stage Jackie and Me portraying the legacy of an American hero, Jackie Robinson. Remember what is really important in life, other than double hits and grand slams, to preserve the brother/sisterhood of humanity, each individual's unique dignity. Then trust as Robinson ultimately expressed, in spite of what people said or did to him only because of his skin color, “I believe in the human race.”

First Stage Children's Theater presents Jackie and Me at the Todd Wehr Theatre in the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts through May 5. Season subscriptions are on sale for the 2013-2014 season "Discover, Imagine, Explore," or sign up for First Stage's Summer Theater Academy beginning June 17. For information or tickets, please call 414.273.3800 or click the First Stage link to the left                by Peggy Sue Dunigan