Ansa Akyea and the company of Jackie and Me.
Photo by Dan Norman
Joey Stoshack gets to do what so many of us dream about: travel back in time and meet his heroes. For the baseball-obsessed youth who can make his journeys by touching the trading cards of his favorite athletes, this is a lot more exciting than just studying them in the library.
Dan Gutman has spun this simple concept into more than a dozen novels. The second of the series, Jackie and Me, has been adapted for the stage by Steve Dietz and his now playing at the Children's Theatre Company.
It's an unnecessarily fussy work, too tied to the continuity of the series, and doesn't pay nearly enough attention to the most interesting part: the trials faced by Jackie Robinson in his rookie season in 1947, when the Brooklyn Dodgers first baseman broke the color barrier in baseball and signaled a tremendous change in our society.
While Stoshack (well played by Brandon Brooks) makes for a good and engaging guide through history, there are a lot of elements in play that don't make much of an impact. His temper? That gets played out through the story. His desire to please his father by bringing back a ton of mint-condition bubblegum and trading cards? Er, not so much.
Oh, and he's black when he travels into the past. It's a plot twist I can imagine working very well on the page, but it just doesn't translate to the stage. A second actor to play the role might work, or maybe if there were more instances where his exterior color put the boy in greater danger.
In fact, there are so many complications to Joey's tale that it feels like Robinson's own tale doesn't get nearly enough room to breathe. That's a shame, as they have one of the best actors in town, Ansa Akyea, in the role. He plays Robinson as a rock -- steady and seemingly impervious -- but there are enough signs of the pain and rage just boiling under the surface to fully round out the character.
Robinson's story really doesn't need window dressing. The man broke the racial barrier for baseball, endured horrific taunts from other players, and fans and received a cold welcome from most of the Dodgers locker room. In the play's most riveting moment, Jackie has Joey read one of the threatening letters he has received. Joey stops over one word -- it starts with "n" -- but Robinson insists he read the whole letter aloud. At that moment, the buzz of restlessness you usually find at a CTC show stopped, as everyone sat listening to the painful, hateful words.
The company does solid work throughout, including James Ramlet as the bigger-than-life Dodgers' executive Branch Rickey and Dot McDonald as Rachel Robinson. A chorus of young actors, led by Spencer Harrison Levin as the bad kid in both the present and past, also provide some good moments throughout the show.
Director Marion McClinton knows how to get good performances, and molds the show in a way that gives as much space as the script will allow. There are some truly heartfelt moments here, they're just hard to find amid everything else that is in play.
IF YOU GO:
Jackie and Me
Through April 14
Children's Theatre Company
2400 Third Ave. S., Minneapolis
For tickets and information, call 612.874.0400 or visit online.