As America's pastime, baseball has long been emblematic of our cultural persona, but there is at least one symbolic association Major League Baseball would just as soon forget: the legacy of institutionalized racism. Rather than avoiding the subject, however, Johnny Baseball — a musical penned by playwright Richard Dresser with songs from the sibling team of Robert and Willie Reale — suggests that racism actually resides at the center of one of the sport's loftiest mythologies, the "curse of the Bambino." (Allegedly invoked by the Boston Red Sox's trade of Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1919, the curse was the superstitious explanation for the Red Sox's failure to win a World Series for 86 years.) Anchored by an interracial romance between a young white player and an African-American singer, Johnny Baseball interweaves a fictional narrative with historical realities, welding the two with a smouldering racial tension felt long after Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier. A regional premiere at Park Square Theatre, this Doug Scholz-Carlson-directed production features Timotha Lanae and Joshua James Campbell in the central roles, while the reliably charismatic Zach Curtis steps into the larger-than-life role of Babe Ruth. Spanning eight decades, Johnny Baseball suggests that even a curse as culturally entrenched as racism can be broken if we keep swinging for the fences. In previews through January 24.
Thursdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Starts: Jan. 18. Continues through Feb. 10, 2013