Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Safe at Home has us imagine ourselves in San Diego, October 2016. The World Series is being played between the San Diego Padres and the Texas Rangers, and has come down to its seventh game. As neither team has ever won a World Series, fans and viewers around the country are generating enormous support for their favorite in the contest between two underdogs.
We begin in the Padre's press room as Padres Manager Andy Bradford holds a press conference two hours before the showdown. Staged as a monologue, we come to understand that the outcome of the game rests on the performance of pitcher Victor Castillo, a twenty-five year old Dominican who's had a hot season, but whose volatile behavior makes him unreliable. Though we don't hear the questions, Bradford's answers reveal that there is an issue with Castillo that could cost the Padre's the seriesand throw major league baseball into a maelstrom.
A couple of innings, or scenes, later that we learn Castillo is rumored to be planning a protest on the field, aimed at our immigration policies and the heated anti-immigrant rhetoric that has inflamed the presidential election campaign. With the election only a week or two away, in an effort to hang on to white working class voters in the rust belt, the Democratic candidate has back-pedaled on calls for immigration reform championed by the current president. A protest by a ballplayer who is both immigrant and celebrity, televised to a huge viewing audience, could have a devastating impact on the election, and also to the sport. Hasn't baseball always been above politics?
The scenes are staged in different places in the ballpark, many that are usually unseen by the public, such as the food vendors kitchen, the locker room, the batting cage, a luxury suite, and the tunnel from the locker room to the dugout. In this tunnel, in the ninth scene, or final inning if you prefer, we at last meet Victor Castillo and learn what demons have set upon him. He agonizes over the decision whether to protest or play ball, even as the team is being called out to the field.
The play careens between the press conference and the start of the game by way of encounters between an aggressive reporter for El País and the Padre's owner; the Democratic candidate for president, a powerful member of congress, and an aide to the President; the head umpire and a Major League Baseball executive; and the Latino pitching coach who mentored Castillo and the team's General Manager. Not part of the through-narrative, but casting commentary on it, are a scene between two vendors (a successful white guy who handles lucrative beer sales and a Dominican newbie limited to selling churros), a conflict between two men whose opposing team loyalties threaten their friendship; and an encounterpart pas de deux, part wrestling matchbetween the two San Diego Padres mascots, the official Swinging Padre and the unofficial but much beloved Famous Chicken mascot.
While the scenes are short, and each actor appears in only one, every scene is repeated twelve times in an evening (twice that on Saturday and Sunday, with matinees), giving the actors an arduous workout. The eighteen actors all are excellent, each convincing in presenting their perspective on the issues. Most impressive are Thomas W. Jones II as Padres Manager Andy Bradford, trying to stay cool and in control with the press corps; Raúl Ramos as a journalist whose principals are put on the line; Don Shelby (yes, the former WCCO news anchor) as the deal-making team owner; Warren C. Bowles as an umpire whose lofty principles may be a bit swayed by loyalty to his colleagues; Pedro R. Bayón and Lester Purry in a stirring face-off between the Latino coach and the black general manager who each have felt the sting of historic racism; and Christopher Rivas as Victor Castillo, who is fated to be both hero and villain whatever choice he makes. Praise also goes to Brian Bose and Thalia Bea Kostman who manage to imbue the dance between the two lumbering mascots with both tension and gracewith extra kudos to Bose, who choreographed.
Mixed Blood's Artistic Director Jack Reuler directs Safe at Home and succeeds handily in giving the piece a consistent tone, despite each scene being staged in isolation from the others, and in creating a sense of steady flow from one scene and setting to the next. As each dimension of the stakes that are at risk is presented, tension builds, and a feeling of having greater awareness and less certainty takes hold. The sheer logistics of having all of these scenes played throughout CHS field, starting and ending at virtually the same second, is a mammoth feat. This is the work of a director at the top of his game.
It must be admitted that, despite the strong writing and stirring performances, the end result of Safe at Home is not a deeply developed story, but a proposition, examined from a multitude of perspectives. Each scene adds layers of additional vantage points on the central question, leaving it to the audience to draw lines between right and wrong. Safe at Home uses one beloved American institution, the game of baseball, as a mirror with which to look from every angle at an even more fundamental institutiondemocracy. This production will be long remembered by those fortunate enough to get to CHS Field this week.
Safe at Home is a world premiere production of Mixed Blood Theatre. It continues through March 12, 2017, at CHS Field, 360 Broadway, St. Paul, MN. Tickets are $25 for tickets purchased in advance. Access Passes guarantee complimentary seating and transportation for seniors and persons with disabilities, and their companions. Radical Hospitality tickets are free at the door on a first come, first serve basis starting two hours prior to performances. For advance tickets and Access Pass information call 612-338-6331 or go to www.mixedblood.com.
Writers: Gabriel Greene and Alex Levy; Produced and Directed by: Jack Reuler; Choreography: Brian Bose; Costume Design: Trevor Bowen; Properties Design: Abbee Warmboe; Media and Projections Design: Michael Bateman; Technical Coordinator: Jacob M. Davis; Stage Manager: Erika H. Sellin and Rachael Rhoades. Assistant Director: Leah Anderson.
Cast: Ansa Akyea (Barry), Pedro R. Bayón (Ramon Gonzalez), Brian Bose (The San Diego Chicken), Warren C. Bowles (Gerald Carter), Fernando Collado (Luis), Mike Fotis (Charlie), Thomas Jones II (Andy Bradford), Thalia Bea Kostman (The San Diego Swinging Friar), Michael Lee (Mike), Regan Linton (Alison Shelby), Rudolfo Nieto (marine), Pat O'Brien (Steve Laird), Lester Purry (Angelo Baker), Raúl Ramos (Alejandro Diaz), Christopher Rivas (Victor Castillo), Don Shelby (Philip Engstrom), Mark Sieve (Tim Donovan), Harry Waters Jr. (Andrew Leighton).