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'Jackie & Me' Brings American History to Life at the IRT

Experience the Life of Jackie Robinson on Stage


'Jackie & Me' Brings American History to Life at the IRT

Beethovan Oden & Joseph Mervis in IRT's Jackie and Me. Photo by Zach Rosing.

When Jackie Robinson stepped onto Ebbets Field for the first time, he changed the face of Major League baseball (and other sports) forever. More importantly, he changed American history and the country's perception. The Indiana Repertory Theatre's production of Jackie & Me explores human equality while embracing one of sports history's legends.

The Story

Steven Dietz adapted the play based on the novel by Dan Gutman. The young adult novel is the story of Joey Stoshack, a young boy obsessed with baseball and struggling to find his way. He has a special superpower, however - the ability to travel through time. When his teacher assigns a report for Black History Month, Joey finds himself going back in time to Jim Crow America in 1947.

While there, he comes face-to-face with Jackie Robinson - and with the challenges of prejudice and human inequality. During his adventure, Joey befriends Robinson and his family and learns the struggle of "turning the other cheek". When he returns home, back to the present time, Joey has acquired a new understanding of American race relations and a new appreciation for what Jackie Robinson did for baseball.

Dan Gutman has written 105 books. Jackie & Me is part of his most popular series, the Baseball Card Adventures. His first book of the series was Honus & Me. So far, there are 11 books in the series. This story, in particular, enlightens young readers to the racial tensions of previous generations. The IRT is using this production in its student matinee series, a perfect addition to Black History month education.

The Performance
I was excited about attending Opening Night of Jackie & Me because my husband is a big baseball fan. I knew he would really enjoy the play. Personally, I didn't know much about Jackie Robinson, other than his admirable status as the first black man to play in the Major Leagues. And I wasn't familiar with the story, so I wasn't sure exactly what to expect.

Throughout the performance, I found myself deeply moved. The acting was very good and the performance was seemingly flawless. Throughout the play, I found my thoughts drifting to how much our culture has changed since 1947. While many argue we have a long way to go, it is amazing to consider how far we have come. This play is entertaining and fun but also thought-provoking.

The Cast
The entire play is told through the eyes of Joey and is riding on the performance of the lead role. Joseph Mervis, age 13, plays a likeable and sympathetic Joey Stoshack. Despite his young age, Mervis is no stranger to the stage. He's performed in several local productions and will appear in the upcoming film, For Ashes in spring 2013.

Beethovan Oden portrays an anguish and determined Robinson. Oden's Jackie is a proud man - a hero whose devotion to the game made a lasting impact on America's perceptions. His performance is admirable. Also of note in the cast is Rob Johansen. He plays several characters, most prominent, Flip, a Brooklyn-born baseball fanatic who teaches Joey about the original Brooklyn Dodgers. Johansen, along with his wife, Jennifer Johansen (who portrays Joey's mother) are staples at the IRT. They are both talented actors who have been in recent productions of Julius Caesar and A Christmas Carol.

The Set
This production is performed on the IRT's Upper Stage. I had never been in the smaller theatre, but it was perfect for this production.It gave the whole performance an intimate feel, putting the audience very near the action. The set includes a simple stadium exterior, a chain link fence and of course, green turf. To symbolize Joey's journeys through time, the cast comes out and spins the furniture as they set the stage for the next scene. I thought this was a creative way to keep the story moving while at the same time, making necessary scene changes. The furniture, more than the scenery conveys whether the story is taking place in Joey's home, a baseball stadium or the Robinson's home.

The Costumes
I love the style of 1940's fashion and everything from Rachel Robinson's stylish dresses and hats to the vintage baseball uniforms felt authentic. Joey, dressed in modern Nike's and jeans gets unwanted attention when he's in 1947. Jackie himself is a real gentleman in a brown suit and matching hat. He appears dressed so in his first scene, instantly commanding respect and admiration.

The Review
I really enjoyed the IRT's performance of Jackie & Me. It is thought-provoking, heart-warming and funny. The production was creative and intimate. Prior to seeing this play, I'd never thought about how difficult it would have been to break the race barrier in baseball. These days, our sports are a rainbow of races and colors. Only a short time ago, that wasn't the case. The IRT's Jackie & Me really brought the pain and the struggle to life and brought tears to the eyes of the audience on Opening Night. I was impressed with the acting ability of the entire cast - especially the two young men. It was the most emotional and enthusiastic audience I've ever witnessed at the IRT. When the "curtain" came down, the cast was met with a standing ovation.

The IRT's production of Jackie & Me runs through February 16. It is 90 minutes, with no intermission. Tickets range in price from $20 - $45. For more information, contact the IRT at 317-635-5252.

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