Spotlight: The Baron


When Jim Raschke used to slip into his tights and out of his shirt, adopting a Teutonic accent and a rabid snarl, he morphed into what he now calls his "strange alter ego" the Baron. In this guise, he wreaked havoc in the world of professional wrestling for some two decades. Turns out the real Jim was a two-time all-American wrestler who even made the American Olympic team before an injury left him looking for more theatrical outlets. Jim and son Karl Raschke collaborate with writer Cory McLeod on The Baron, a freewheeling two-hour show that combines anecdotes from Raschke's colorful past along with the loose outlines of his biography. Raschke slips in and out of the role of the Baron at the drop of a hat, but the real surprise comes when he plays himself. When not goose-stepping and taunting audiences as a classic wrestling heel, Raschke is a big, soft-spoken sweetheart of a guy, quietly articulate and entirely endearing. Fred Wagner and Joe Kudla handle most of the rough stuff in this show (Raschke, who lives in Wabasha, is well into his 60s now). Kudla scarfs swaths of scenery as "The Crusher" Lisowski. But Wagner (who also doubles for the young Jim) goes even further with Mad Dog Vachon, who was apparently prone to such stunts as opening an airplane door mid-flight because of an inexplicable craving for fresh air. Joseph Scrimshaw plays a ring announcer and a gas-station attendant fan (he's the resident "turkey neck" whose function is to be pummeled and harassed), while Michelle Hutchison handles a variety of female roles with a light touch. It's a funny and entertaining show from start to finish, and lays on a bit of goofball existentialism over the question of how real the "sport" is. Raschke is least at ease as himself, but his shyness tickles repeatedly when he loosens up and lets the Baron take over. It's worth noting that I watched the last preview before the official opening night; I suspect Raschke will loosen up as he goes. In the end, the Baron runs entirely off his leash and the old German bastard rages like King Kong one final time before the lights fall. Those were more innocent times, the days before professional wrestling was a sexually charged national TV attraction, and seemingly more fun, too.