Toni Stone

Playhouse on Park

By: - Jun 14, 2024

Toni Stone, now at Playhouse on Park through Sunday, June 16, is perfectly, if accidentally, timed. When it was scheduled, the Playhouse had no idea that Major League Baseball would revise its record book to incorporate Negro League records.

Toni Stone is a woman who loves to play baseball, and she is very good at it. She is recruited to join the barnstorming Indianapolis Clowns, who tour the region playing mainly white teams. They are expected not only to play baseball (and supposedly lose) but also to dance and sing during the fifth-inning break.  It was unclear if they played in what was considered the Major League of the Negro Leagues or were more like a minor league team.

If they win, they often must run for their lives.

Toni, brilliantly played by Constance Sadie Thompson, narrates the story. We meet her teammates, as well as, Millie, the prostitute/madam who befriends Toni, and Alberga, the man who woos and marries her. He is fine with her playing baseball until they are married when he wants her to quit. But Toni is not willing to give up playing baseball and become a traditional wife.

The time is just after Jackie Robinson has integrated (again) the major leagues—the late 1940s—but it goes back to the 1920s. This is confusing, you may wonder if you are in the ‘20s, the ‘30s, or post-war. Except for mentions of Robinson and that one player on their team had his hopes dashed to join a major league team, you are never sure.

In reality, Toni is known to have only played for two or three years with the Clowns and the Kansas City Monarchs. She may have played with other teams, perhaps under other names.

The strengths of this production, directed by Jamila A.C. Mangan, are the performances. Thompson creates a character who is feisty and determined. Playwright Lydia R. Diamond, early on, has Toni declare that she tends to go off the track when telling her stories. But as the play goes on – it is overlong at 2 hours 30+ minutes – this seems like just an excuse for Diamond not to tighten the play.

The large Playhouse on Park stage is perfect; it gives the teammates plenty of room to simulate their games.

Besides Thompson’s fine performance, Brandon Alvión gives a nuanced performance as Millie, combining tenderness and tough love for Toni. You see this in numerous small moments between the two of them.

James Edward Becton, III gives Alberga charm and a debonair quality. You can easily see why Toni would like him.

As is usual in this type of play, each of the other team members plays a more one-dimensional role, from the naïve rookie to the philosophy reading Spec. The actors do a good job but are hampered by the roles themselves.

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