“Jackie and Me” pitches a solid game
“Jackie and Me,” the new coproduction between the St. Louis-based Metro Theater Company and Edison Theatre, Washington University’s on-campus theater, opens with the main character, Joey Stoshack, addressing the audience and filling them in on his secret power—he can travel back through time when he touches a baseball card.
Despite this, he’s just a normal kid trying to play baseball who faces normal kid problems, like being teased for his Polish heritage. He loses his temper and gets kicked off the baseball team. At school, he gets assigned a report for Black History Month. He chooses legendary player Jackie Robinson and procures a rare card to get back to Robinson’s rookie season. His trip back in time will serve two purposes: research for his school project and an opportunity to learn how to control his temper.
There’s a twist, though: when he goes back in time he changes from a ten-year-old white kid to a black one. This adds even more obstacles to his quest, and almost costs him a chance to return to the present.
Much like the game of baseball, this is a crowd-pleaser through and through. The largest laughs of the night came from two scenes set in “slow motion” completely created by the actors and clever sound effects. A recurring gag where Joey finds out practical uses for his school lessons (for example, figuring out how much money baseball cards are worth is why we learn math) also caused the crowd to erupt in laughter.
The acting was impressive across the board, though it sometimes was a little too cheesy for me, and the actors’ accents left a little to be desired. I was surprised to learn that Kurt Hellerich, who played Joey, is older than I am because he played a darn convincing kid. Reginald Pierre pulls off the delicate balance of playing Robinson as a real person but imbuing him with an air of legendary as well. But David Wassilak really steals the show as Dodgers owner Branch Rickey, who originally signs Robinson to break the color barrier in baseball.
The discussion of race never gets too heavy or uncomfortable for kids, but it does not get glossed over. The “n-word” is the subject of a delicate scene where Joey reads a piece of hate mail sent to Jackie Robinson. It isn’t used as much as Tarantino dropped it in “Django Unchained,” but I was surprised and impressed that a children’s play would even address slurs.
My only qualm was that some may equate the playground bullying Joey faces in the present with the segregation Robinson and other African-Americans faced in the 1940s, which are simply not at the same level of discrimination. I don’t think that was the goal of the playwright, but I saw the play with an audience made up primarily of school children who laughed at some of the heavier scenes. Hopefully the message won’t go over everyone’s heads.
“Jackie and Me” runs one final weekend at the Edison Theatre.