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Thursday, 21 February 2013 19:22

Swinging for the fences with 'Winning History - The Branch Rickey Story'

Written by Tina Farmer
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The one-man show, "Winning History - The Branch Rickey Story," is an entertaining evening of theater, and a nice reminder that spring training is just around the corner. As a baseball fan myself, I was predisposed to like the subject matter, and author/actor Ralph Kalish does a nice job of interweaving personal anecdote with historical fact.

Written and performed with evident affection by Ralph Kalish, both the character of Branch Rickey and the game of baseball were present throughout, and were particularly well articulated in the script.The baseball history presented in the show, follows Rickey's career from his days as a player starting in 1906 through the 1960s. Though he's perhaps best known for helping to integrate baseball with the signing and promotion to the major leagues of Jackie Robinson, Rickey was also instrumental in the establishment of baseball's farm system and an early advocate of using statistical data to evaluate players.

Each of these important facets of baseball provide a solid event for Kalish to build on with personal stories and the script, for the most part, succeeds. The script also does a nice job of presenting other aspects of Rickey's life, including his failed run for office and his deep religious conviction.

Kalish's script is well paced and moves back and forth in time nicely, keeping his focus on history but adding commentary that integrates personal prejudices and back stories as well as commentary from a more modern perspective. There were also a number of moments where Kalish really tapped into the spirit and personality of Rickey, both jovial and prickly, adding some nice humorous touches.

What doesn't work as well, unfortunately, is the personification of Rickey by Kalish. Where his script adds humor and personalizes moments in history, his performance often falls short in conveying the necessary emotion and passion of the character he portrays. Kalish had trouble, at times, with his lines and a certain hesitancy in his movements slowed the material.

Some of the directorial choices also came in to question during the course of the performance. In one particularly uncomfortable bit of staging, Rickey, a white gentleman of a certain age, addressed an empty chair representing a younger black man; I found myself wishing director Bobby Miller had made a different choice. I would also encourage anyone wishing to see the show to arrive early to ensure the best possible seating. Unfortunately, the back of the house serves as the backstage area as well, and can be a bit noisy. The positioning of the technician in this area may have also led to a number of lighting miscues.

This one-man show works well in the space, and the office-like set, enhanced with replica magazine covers and a news editorial sketch of Branch Rickey, creates a pleasant environment that draws the already close crowd further in. While the flaws in the overall production took me out of the moment at times, I enjoyed the show and appreciated the craft and history included in Kalish's script. Additionally, the stage at The Gaslight Theater seems particularly well suited for such an intimate production.

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