JACKIE & ME Plays The Rose Theater, Now thru 3/16
The story of Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play for the major leagues, is told with a time-traveling twist in Jackie & Me, tonight, February 28 - March 16, at The Rose Theater. Jackie & Me paints a touching and inspiring portrait of the challenge Robinson faced as he broke the color barrier through the eyes of a young boy who is transported back in time to see it first-hand.
Based on the book by Dan Gutman and adapted for the stage by Steven Dietz, Jackie & Me follows a ten-year-old, baseball-obsessed boy named Joey Stoshack with a testy temper. When he is assigned a research project for Black History Month, a rare baseball card becomes a ticket for time travel. Joey arrives in 1947 just in time to witness Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey sign Jackie Robinson to play for the major leagues.
What follows is a recount of Robinson's challenge to the color line in baseball. Not only does Joey get first-hand knowledge of Robinson and his journey, but he also gets to take one of his own. To his surprise, when Joey looks into the mirror in 1947, he sees that his skin has darkened, offering him a startlingly personal experience similar to what Robinson endures throughout the play. In a journey that is as much about self-discovery as it is a history lesson, Joey endures racism on a variety of levels, from accidentally getting in line for a "whites only" water fountain to asking for a ride from a white delivery driver.
The production is led by director John Hardy, a talented director with a passion for both history and baseball. "John Hardy was the first and really only person we considered to lead this production," says Rose artistic director Matthew Gutshick. "John represents the gold standard for us in terms of directing and we are extraordinarily excited to have him here in town."
As a baseball fan himself who even had aspirations of playing in a farm league, Hardy admits that he relates very well with the character of Joey. Hardy notes that the play speaks to him on a very personal level. "I grew up in Newark in the 1960s when people died in riots in New York. I can remember being 10 years old and there were soldiers in the streets of New Jersey," he says. "This all had a great impact on my entire life. The fight for equality is something near and dear to my heart. I can't think of anything more important to me than the grappling for equal rights that has happened in the last 150 years in this country. And I can't help but ask, would this have happened without Jackie Robinson?"
Hardy explains that there was a tremendous backlash against Robinson in his time. When Robinson broke Major League Baseball's color barrier in 1947, fans, opponents and even teammates jeered and tormented the player both on and off the playing field. The book's original author, Steven Dietz, notes that the play is historically accurate and depicts things that Robinson endured, such as being shouted at from the stands and receiving threatening letters aimed at himself, his wife and his child. At the same time, the show conveys the courage of Robinson,
as well as those who stood beside him - people like Branch Rickey, the visionary owner of the Dodger who signed Robinson, and Pee Wee Reese, Robinson's teammate who stepped forward to silence the crowds with a single gesture.
Jackie Robinson changed the game of baseball, and in doing so, racial dynamics in America. "To do what he did has got to be the most tremendous thing I've ever seen in sports," baseball great Pee Wee Reese of his Brooklyn Dodgers once said of Robinson.
"It seems to me, when I stand back and look at history from a distance, that Jackie Robinson kicked off the civil rights movement," says Hardy. Others agree, including Martin Luther King, Jr., who credited Robinson with profoundly advancing the Civil Rights Movement, recognizing Robinson's belief that every American is entitled to respect as a human being and the player's determination to achieve that respect.
A special exhibit of Robinson's memorabilia is being held with Love's Jazz & Arts Center in conjunction with Jackie & Me. Entitled "Stealing Home: How Jackie Robinson Changed America," the exhibit documents Robinson's battle to break baseball's color barrier. Portions of the exhibit will be on display in The Rose's lobby throughout the run of the show.
"People's acceptance of Jackie Robinson in baseball eventually led to the demand for equality in American society, and that influence continues today," says Hardy.