Children’s Theatre of Charlotte this month will present a dramatic play exploring the lessons learned by a 10-year-old who travels back in time to interview baseball great Jackie Robinson, who integrated major league baseball in 1947.
Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball’s modern era as the first African-American to play for a major league team. In 1947, at age 28, Robinson was thrust into the national spotlight as the starting first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers. His presence ended 60 years of racial segregation that isolated black players to the Negro leagues.
“Jackie & Me,” written by award-winning contemporary playwright Steven Dietz, is based on Dan Gutman’s novel of the same name.
The tale follows Joey Stoshack, who receives more than a few barbs and ribbing from his schoolmates regarding his Polish heritage. Joey’s response to a school assignment to write about a role model finds him using his time-traveling prowess to meet Robinson. Along the way he experiences the harsh, often violent and threatening treatment displayed toward blacks in that era. The lessons become particularly poignant as Joey undergoes a transformation and personally lives the very same bullying and discrimination endured by his hero.
The presentation is historically accurate in its portrayal of Robinson’s struggles. So much so, Children’s Theatre felt it necessary to share a caution regarding language. Children’s Theatre told schools:
“‘Jackie and Me’ explores a time in our nation’s history when minorities, particularly African-Americans, were not treated fairly by many individuals and institutions. The script uses the ‘n-word’ in one instance: it is included in an anonymous threatening letter that Jackie Robinson receives, which is read aloud by 10-year-old Joey. …In the context of this play – and the time and place it portrays – we believe the use of the ‘n-word’ is important for the story. We also respect the author’s original book, and the playwright’s adaptation, in our presentation of this piece. You may feel it is appropriate to share with your students that they will hear this word before they see the show, and/or discuss it in context following the performance.”
Veteran Charlotte actor Bobby Tyson, 46, portrays Jackie Robinson.
“The play addresses deep and significant moments through powerful scenes,” said Tyson. “Difficult scenes come very fast and hard yet are immediately followed by a strong message and lesson. It is a beautifully and thoughtfully done work.”
CTC notes that the play is suitable for children ages 7 and up, and a few elementary schools have chosen to pass on this production.
“Part of our mission at CTC is to provide an opportunity for the community to participate in open discussions about important issues,” said Adam Burke, 41, artistic director.
Burke noted that the company has a history of thoughtful treatment in addressing challenging subject matter, including a recent play that dealt with the death of a parent.
“Discussions surrounding race are admittedly difficult; we can be a place where these conversations can take place,” he said. “We want to provide these opportunities.”
CTC has developed a teacher resource guide for “Jackie & Me” providing historical background and context as well as a series of discussion questions.
“What makes it different and exciting and so accessible for an audience,” said Tyson, “is a director who is passionate, a great cast, and a script that is incredibly well done. This play will make for spectacular conversation.”
Youngstown State University (Ohio) theater professor Matthew Mazuroski, 51, directs the production.
“These stories simply have to be told,” he said. “This is not just black history; this is American history. We are at risk of losing these moments to a line in a history book by not sharing them where people can see and experience what actually happened.”
This story was produced as part of the Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance.
Jackie & Me
Children’s Theatre’s production of Steven Dietz’s play runs Feb. 27- March 15 at ImaginOn, 300 E. Seventh St.
Details: $14; ctcharlotte.org.