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The inspiring true story of the first woman to go pro in baseball’s negro leagues


After a delayed opening, Toni Stone is finally game-on at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. Directed by Tinashe Kajese-Bolden, it's the biographical telling of the first woman to go pro in baseball's negro leagues, Marcenia "Toni" Stone. Hers is a story of overcoming the odds and shattering expectations. Toni Stone, written by Lydia R. Diamond, was declared the Best New Play of 2019 by the Wall Street Journal.

While there are myriad reasons to experience Toni Stone, I'll give you nine.

1) This Milwaukee Rep play almost wasn't.
Not only was Toni Stone
's opening recently delayed by one week, the play was actually supposed to be a part of the 2020 season that never was. Says Artistic Director Mark Clements in his program note: "Everything, including this play, fell into uncertainty. Time and countless conversations passed and through it all we held on to this play. We found the aspects of the story that we were drawn to -- honoring our shared US history, uplifting diverse voices, and bringing powerful and entertaining stories to the stage -- resonated even more deeply with us now."

2) Toni is a trailblazer who deserves to have her story told.
Playwright Lydia R. Diamond clearly knew a good and worthy hero when she saw one. In the play, Toni Stone narrates her own story and takes the audience through a series of vignettes from her childhood to the dugout to the team bus. We see her form a relationship with Alberga, the man who becomes her husband, and befriend the worldly-wise prostitute Millie. The show addresses Toni's experience of sexism and racism, but comes back around to her exuberant passion for baseball. The play nicely balances intense truths with lightness, humor, and good, impassioned storytelling.

3) Kedren Spencer is spectacular as Toni.
The character of Toni dominates the play, narrating over every moment, breaking the fourth wall, and leading the audience where she wishes. Kedren Spencer is a magnetic, confident, and natural Toni. This character has a lot to say, a range of ages to embody and scenarios to convey, and Spencer does it all with the spark of effortless poise and natural candor. Her stunning performance is reason enough to see Toni Stone

4) The dynamite ensemble is insanely good.
Spencer is supported by eight other actors to round out their team of nine. The terrific cast includes Amar Atkins, DiMonte Henning, Enoch A. King, Sekou Laidlow, Eric J. Little, Lau'rie Roach. dane troy, and Geoffrey D. Williams. Not only do they complete the Clowns baseball team, each one plays multiple roles throughout the show. Of particular note are Atkins as Toni's well-meaning mother, Laidlow as love interest Alberga, and King as prostitute Millie. King is a particular favorite, delightful as they come.

5) There's a playfulness to Toni Stone that's immensely entertaining.
The cast of Toni Stone highlights the fact that Toni is a barrier-breaking woman. On stage, there are eight men to Spencer's one woman, meaning the men must step into the shoes of assorted women within the world of the play -- the aforementioned Millie, Toni's mother, a barkeep, and others. The fellas bring a noticeable femininity to these moments, juxtaposed with Toni's no-frills, boyish way of being. Commentary or simply a mechanism of the play, it's always fun when a cast takes on multiple characters as it acknowledges the playful, make-believe quality inherent to theater.

6) The play is equally powerful and intense.
While much of Toni Stone is full of triumph, good energy, and straight-up baseball love, there are enough challenging moments throughout that allow us to feel the weight of Toni's experience with racism and sexism. It wasn't all breezily breaking barriers and palling around with the boys. The play includes some intensely uncomfortable moments. It's up to the audience to lean into these curveballs and grapple with the weight of it all.

7) From scenic design to lighting, Toni Stone is a beaut.
Can baseball be beautiful? There's a warm, nostalgic, almost reverent feeling that comes with America's pastime, and Scenic Designer Tony Cisek somehow captures that in the scenery for Toni Stone
. Towering floodlights and a chain-link backstop make for picturesque silhouettes when set aglow by Lighting Designer Thom Weaver.

8) Choreography is the 10th man.
The movement of Toni Stone is perhaps one of the strongest elements in this already-strong play. Choreographed by Dell Howlett, there is some terrific dancing in the show. But mostly the choreo highlights sport-driven movements -- stretching, warming up, signaling -- which become artful moments that enrich each scene and make them mesmerizing.

9) See Toni Stone for the love of the game -- and history.
Toni Stone isn't necessarily a play for baseball fans alone. Sure, if you collect baseball cards, can recite players stats, and are obsessed with watching or playing ball, I imagine you'll appreciate Toni Stone
on a different level. But Toni herself -- as a black woman and glass ceiling smasher in the world of sports -- tips the show into a realm of serious history. If you consider yourself a true baseball fan but don't know your negro leagues and don't know Toni Stone, this play is an opportunity to expand your knowledge and appreciation. Don't miss it.

Toni Stone is on stage now through January 30th at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

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From This Author - Kelsey Lawler