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A grand slam for Roundabout Theatre Company

You may not have heard of Toni Stone, the first Black woman to play professional baseball, before, but after seeing this play, you'll be shocked that you haven't known of her legacy. Based on the book by Martha Ackmann, Curveball: The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone, this inspiring and powerful play, written by Lydia R. Diamond, weaves Toni's recollections of her childhood as a "tomboy" in St. Paul with her time playing for the Indianapolis Clowns. Roundabout Theatre Company's production of Toni Stone at Arena Stage, directed by Pam MacKinnon, gives Toni (Santoya Fields) the power to tell her own story - the way she wants to tell it.

Toni's life is baseball. She lives and breathes it everyday - from her knowledge of baseball stats to the history of famous players. Fields hits a home run with her performance as Toni. She portrays Toni's eccentricity and passion effortlessly scene after scene. Toni knows who she is and she isn't afraid to be herself. For instance, she doesn't change herself to be in a relationship with Alberga (Aldo Billingslea), a political leader and businessman. It is sweet to see how their relationship transforms from their first meeting at Jack's Tavern to their marriage. Billingslea and Fields' on-stage chemistry reflects this progression of Toni and Alberga's relationship.

Santoya Fields (Toni Stone) in Toni Stone running September 3 through October 3, 2021 at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater.
Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.

The play doesn't just focus on Toni's love life - it also dives into her relationships with her team and Millie (Kenn E. Head), her best friend who works at a gentlemen's club. Whenever Head and Fields are together, they form a lively sisterhood. They argue, tease, and gossip with each other like sisters. The Indianapolis Clowns are Toni's peers. Her fellow teammates are Spec (Gilbert Lewis Bailey ll), Rufus (Aldo Billingslea), Jimmy (Deimoni Brewington), King Tut (JaBen Early), Willie (Kenn E. Head), Elzie (Rodney Earl Jackson Jr.), Stretch (Sean-Maurice Lynch), and Woody (Jarrod Mims Smith). The "dugout" humor is prevalent. The actors zing jokes like fast baseballs and the audience catches them with their laughter.

It's not all laughter for the Clowns. The all-Black team faces daily hate and fear as they encounter racism. If they win a game against a white team, they have to run for the bus. They often can't find hotel rooms and sometimes have to sleep on their bus. Racial slurs are shouted at them during games. The Clowns' owner, Syd, only sees them as entertainers and not professional ballplayers trying to earn a living. This concept is shown in a scene (featuring Camille A. Brown's stunning choreography) of the players transitioning from playing ball to performing a minstrel act. It's heart wrenching to see the forced smiles and the pain they have to endure by being forced to put on a show.

The cast of Toni Stone running September 3 through October 3, 2021 at
Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.

Toni faces misogyny, even from her fellow teammates and coaches. She must negotiate to get the pay that she deserves and endure men being uncomfortable with her success. At one point, Toni is verbally assaulted by one of the Clowns. The emotional toil and sorrow reverberates from Fields during this harrowing scene.

The artistic direction matches the outstanding performances done by this phenomenal cast. The set, designed by Riccardo Hernández, is a versatile and spacious baseball stadium complete with arena lighting and benches. The set compliments well with the lighting, designed by Allen Lee Hughes, and the original music created by Broken Chord adds to the ambience. Lastly, a baseball team needs quality uniforms and costume designer Dede Ayite delivers.

With its extraordinary cast and profound artistic direction, Roundabout Theatre Company's production of Toni Stone at Arena Stage is a grand slam.

Running Time: About 2 hours with a 15-minute intermission

Toni Stone runs at Arena Stage -1101 Sixth Street SW Washington, DC 20024 - until October 3, 2021. Tickets can be purchased here.

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