I leapt to my feet to applaud at the end of “Jackie and Me” at the Indiana Repertory Theatre a couple weekends ago. It is funny, moving, informative, fun…and, based on what several people have told me, it appeals to baseball fans and others across generations. I loved it completely and would like to see it again before it closes.
Gutman and Dietz
Playwright Steven Dietz adapted a kids’ novel from a series by Dan Gutman in which a boy named Joey Stoshack has the ability to travel back through time by holding baseball cards. Apparently, each book in the series lets Joey meet a different significant player. In Jackie and Me, Joey has to write a report for African-American History Month for school, so he goes back in time to the late 1940s to meet the first African-American to cross the color barrier in major league baseball: Jackie Robinson.
I haven’t read any of the books in the series (I have Jackie and Me on hold at my local public library but it hasn’t come in yet) but I enjoyed another book by Dan Gutman called Getting Air, about three 12-year-old skateboarders that defeat terrorists and then survive a plane crash in the wilderness. I like Dan Gutman’s wholesome but far from bland sense of humor and his ignore-the-unimportant-details sense of adventure.
In “Jackie and Me,” for example, Joey’s parents don’t question the fact that Joey can travel through time. His dad just gives him his grandfather’s satchel to carry instead of his backpack so that he will fit in better, and his mom just packs him a lunch to take along and reminds him that he will need the same baseball card to get back. On the other hand, important things like bullying, racism, offensive language, temper control, and keeping promises are not ignored. They are addressed in non-condescending, family-friendly ways that help all of us sort through what’s worth fighting for, and how best to do it.
Playwright Steven Dietz did a good job of capturing Gutman’s storytelling style in his “Jackie and Me” adaptation.
And the IRT’s production, directed by Courtney Sale, brings it to life delightfully.
Young Joseph Mervis’ portrayal of Joey Stoshack is a treat. For example, when Joey says a line like “See? This is why we learn math!” that could be disgustingly saccharine, Joseph delivers it to the audience with a twinkle in his eye that gives it just the right combination of sincere joy and teasing. Joseph/Joey is on stage the whole time; it is truly a great pleasure to be on the adventure with him.
The other child actor, Brett Wainscott, is also good. He is convincing as Joey’s nemesis in both time periods. He shows us that bullies may be different people (opposing pitcher Bobby Fuller who goads Joey for his Polish heritage or Dodgers batboy Ant who goads Joey for being black, as Joey becomes when he goes back to 1947) but they all have things (fear, resentment, etc.) in common.
The adult actors are all crackerjack, too. Four of the adult actors are local IRT favorites. Two are visiting from New York. All except one play multiple roles. All are excellent:
Ryan Artzberger is a divorced dad doing his best…and a 1940s white baseball player that resists change.
Jennifer Johansen is Joey’s loving, suburban mom…and a 1940s feisty Brooklyn grocery store owner that serves anyone as long as they’re not Yankee fans.
Rob Johansen is Flip, the baseball card store owner that tells Joey that you can’t sell your memories…and Pee Wee Reese, a 1940s white teammate that sticks up for Jackie Robinson without saying a word.
Robert Neal is the 1940s Brooklyn Dodgers’ visionary manager, Branch Rickey…and the retired but still beloved Yankees player, Babe Ruth.
Lanise Antoine Shelley is Joey’s exasperated but dedicated teacher, Ms. Levitt…and Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s brave and intelligent wife.
And Beethovan Oden as Jackie Robinson lets us see both his incredible strength of character and his humanity.
The Design Elements
This piece is presented on the IRT’s upperstage, which means the audience sits on three steeply-raked sides and the actors can enter from the front corners as well as from behind the set.
When this show opens, a man is “painting” a white baseline of light on the Astroturf-covered set. The whole show is this kind of lovely mix of actual materials and polished theatrical make-believe.
Scenic designer Robert M. Koharchik placed a tall, chain-link wall with doors at the back and provided a few key pieces of furniture and props that the actors use with the help of Betsy Cooprider-Bernstein’s lighting design to gracefully (as graceful as a baseball game!) convert the space in moments from Joey’s baseball field to Joey’s home to Joey’s classroom…and then through a whirl of time travel back to Branch Rickey’s office, the Dodgers’ locker room, the Robinsons’ home, and more.
Alison Heryer’s carefully-researched costume designs clearly and authentically delineate the two time periods in everything from Joey’s Nikes to Rachel’s pocketbook.
Todd Mack Resichman’s sound design enriches the whole experience, too. One of my favorite scenes is the one in which Jackie and Joey play a late-night game of catch in the alley outside the Robinsons’ apartment. It includes several satisfying “thwacks” of the imaginary baseball hitting their gloves.
Delia Neylon is the stage manager. Be sure to read dramaturg Richard J. Roberts’ interesting background essay in the program.
The IRT obviously put this show in their season to be of interest to the schools that send their students by the busload to the IRT on field trips, but don’t dismiss this as being just for kids or just educational. It holds many kinds of satisfactions for many kinds of audiences.
“Jackie and Me” runs through February 16, 2013 at the Indiana Repertory Theatre. Check www.irtlive.com for showtimes and to make reservations. I saw one of the 3pm Saturday performances. It was an unusual showtime for Indianapolis, but a great time of the day and week to see a show!
‘See you at the theatres…
Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com and @IndyTheatre on Twitter.
Photos used with this post were taken by Zach Rosing and are used with permission. Roll your mouse over each photo to see the actors’ names.
©2013 Hope Baugh