Theater: ‘Jackie and Me’ tells story of racism, heroism
When Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947, it wasn’t revered like it is today. Fans, opponents and even teammates jeered and tormented the stoic Robinson along his long and difficult journey.
“Jackie and Me,” a play by Steven Dietz and based on the book by Dan Gutman, paints a touching, sometimes heartbreaking and always inspiring portrait of that journey through the eyes of a young boy who is transported back in time to see it in first person.
The play, produced by Stage One Family Theatre and being performed at the Kentucky Center Saturday, also pays special attention to Louisville native Harold “Pee Wee” Reese, who at the time was the Brooklyn Dodgers’ team captain. Reese ended up being one of Robinson’s key supporters and friends.
“During an away game, crowds relentlessly heckled and taunted Robinson,” says Hannah Wemitt, director of marketing and PR for Stage One. “During the game, Reese walked over to Robinson, and without saying a word placed his arm around him, displaying his friendship and camaraderie, and quieting the crowd.”
Another interesting aspect of the play is that Joey, the Caucasian child who goes back in time, is seen as a black child to those he interacts with in 1947, offering him a startlingly personal experience similar to what his hero, Robinson, endures throughout the play.
The young character, however, doesn’t recognize the shift until it is pointed out by Branch Rickey, the Dodgers’ owner and general manager, according to Wemitt. From that point on, she says, the boy 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.
“One particular scene between Joey and Jackie teaches Joey that it’s OK to fight back, but it’s how you fight back that’s more important,” she says. “There are moments of racially charged language that, for an audience, are difficult to hear and are difficult for Joey to experience, but the playwright handles them with great care, and they actually become opportunities for conversation, especially with young people.”
Following the 5 p.m. performance, Stage One will also hold a ticketed fundraiser at the Louisville Slugger Museum. This private event includes ballpark-themed food and drink, guided factory and museum tours, and a silent auction. The $50 ticket price includes admission to the show and can be purchased at stageone.org.
‘Jackie and Me’
Saturday, Feb. 23
501 W. Main St. • 584-7777
$19.95; 2 & 5 p.m.