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Friday, 06 May 2011 23:07

Branch Rickey 101

Written by Connie Bollinger
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gaslighttheater.net
gaslighttheater.net

Branch Rickey was a colorful, stubborn, dedicated man who lived baseball to the point of obsession and is credited with single handedly integrating the game. With a story like that you would expect a two hour performance of Rickey's years in baseball to fly by. That's what I expected. I was wrong.

Like most people in the St. Louis area, I was raised on stories of great Cardinal baseball personalities, players like Dizzy and Daffy Dean, Ducky Medwick, Leo Durocher, Stan Musial. We knew all the players, had their cards, and most of us could recite their stats better and with more enthusiasm than we recited the catechism; but the most notorious off the field, the most debated and discussed, was Branch Rickey.

 I really wanted to like this homage to Mr. Rickey. I wanted to sit in the theater and hear the old stories told with warmth and enthusiasm. I wanted Branch Rickey and all the players to come alive on that stage and tell me stories I can't get out of a textbook or a biography of baseball. I wanted to feel that excitement and humor and love of a game that has sustained and uplifted and frustrated generations of people all over the country, all over the world.

What I got was a lecture. Which is fine in its context, but not when you're talking about one of the most enigmatic personalities the sports world has ever seen.

Ralph Kalish gives us Branch Rickey as a professor. He stands in a dimly lit performance space talking endlessly about random things that happened. His only movements are to step left about three paces, then right about three paces. He went to a small podium once to read a speech Rickey gave when he was running for political office, but the segue was baffling both coming and going.

A one man or one woman show is one of the most difficult bits of theater. You need a really good script, some charming inside stories, better than average acting skills and loads of charisma. I saw none of those in this production.

There's nothing wrong with a lecture format about baseball greats; but it's not theater and it's not acting. It's talking. There's a huge difference.

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