Jack Alexander and Ansa Akyea.
Photo by Scott Pakudaitis
While watching a show that includes both Jackie Robinson and John F. Kennedy, and what you would think would be an interesting intersection of their lives in Sheboygan, I found myself glancing upward and becoming intrigued by the lighting grid above the stage at the History Theatre.
That's not a good sign, but there was little going on at this point that held my attention. There's plenty of fault to be divided up here. Eric Simonson's script spends way too much time talking about politics that are half a century old, with the central point (getting Jackie Robinson to support JFK in the 1960 election) actually having no bearing on history.
Simonson neither digs particularly deep into the issues at play here, nor gives enough space to the delightful center of the tale: a young boy from a Jewish family who becomes pen pals with the ball player who broke the color barrier in baseball.
The play examines two visits at the Rabinovitz home during that year. In one, Robinson is there for dinner after giving a speech in nearby Manitowoc (and receiving a key to the city). Along the way, they have discovered that patriarch David's law office has been vandalized, and racist graffiti has been spray painted on the wall.
In the other, presidential candidate arrives at the home before a rally for nearby striking workers. He has a mission for David: connect the candidate with the ball player and get Robinson to support Kennedy. Robinson didn't (he was a Nixon man). Kennedy won anyway.
The unfocused script doesn't give the actors a lot to work with here, and most of the performers feel like they are just playing the surface of their characters. Peter Middlecamp's Kennedy is essentially an accent and a haircut; while Mark Benninghofen and Teri Parker Brown as the Rabinovitz parents don't get much further than the political activist and 1960s housewife parts of their characters.
Ansa Akyea and Jack Alexander do bring additional life to their performances. Akyea is making his second turn in a year as Robinson, and brings plenty of grace and charm to the role. Jack Alexander makes for an engaging narrator as Ronnie, while his scenes with Akyea and Middlecamp, when the politics drop aside and it just becomes about baseball, friendship, and family, are the real highlight here.
All of this gets wrapped up in a production that looks nice, but doesn't have much to hold your attention. Ron Peluso's direction is pretty flat, which only makes this 90-minute play feel more like a three-hour slog between teams at the bottom of the league.
IF YOU GO
The Incredible Season of Ronnie Rabinovitz
Through Feb. 23
30 E. 10th St., St. Paul
For tickets and more information, call 651.292.4323 or visit online.