What fan of history or baseball, wouldn’t love to travel back to 1947 to witness the drama of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in his historic season with the Brooklyn Dodgers? 10-year-old Joey Stoshack has the ability to do just that, even though he was born in 2002. He just holds a baseball card in his hand, thinks about where he wants to go and poof! There he is, 1947, Brooklyn, Jackie Robinson, Branch Rickey and oh yeah, suddenly he’s black. Not only does he get first-hand knowledge of Robinson and his journey, but he gets to take one of his own, when he realizes how differently he is treated as a young boy of color. So begins the story in Metro Theater Company’s newest offering, Jackie and Me, by Steven Dietz, adapted from the book by Dan Gutman, and presented in partnership with the Edison Theater.
Kurt Hellerich’s Joey is earnest, mostly honest, and has a temper that needs controlling. He promises his mother that he will “rein it in” after getting into a fight on the baseball field. Jackie Robinson, played by Reginald Pierre, makes the same promise to Branch Rickey, he will never fight, no matter how provoked. Of all the lessons highlighted in Jackie and Me, this is my favorite, this realization for children that they can choose not to fight, they can choose to walk away. In a generation of zombie shooters and World of Warcraft players, this play asks children to choose the higher ground, the noble path. Other lessons have to do with race and hate and bravery, but none of them are obvious as lessons. That’s the beauty of what Metro Theater does, it instructs while it entertains and opens opportunities for discussions between parents and children. In fact, if my daughter were small again, I would download the Education Guide from the website and use it to talk about the play.
The production values are abundant, sets roll in and out to represent separate times and places, wigs, costumes and props change the look of the ensemble in a flash, and many of the actors create several, distinct characters. Director Tim Ocel and his technical team have put together a deluxe spectacle in which to tell this story. Hellerich and Pierre, as well as Nicholas Kryah and David Wassilak lead a terrific ensemble of actors.
Metro is also using this opportunity to highlight “game changers,” people in St Louis who are changing our city for the better, profiling a different person each night. In addition to our local game changers, this weekend (Jan 18-20), Metro will host several former Negro League Legends, Gary Crawford, George “Daddy Long Legs” Altman and Jim Proctor. These retired ball players will participate in an after show discussion.
If you have children, you should be a fan of Metro Theater Company. Even if you don’t have children, you should still see Jackie and Me, which continues through January 27th at the Edison Theater.