A simple, heartwarming play for baseball fans of all ages, Honus & Me receives a solid production at the City Theatre. Steven Dietz adapted for the stage the 1997 juvenile novel by Dan Gutman (already adapted for the small screen in the 2004 TV film The Winning Season). The play received its world premiere Seattle Children's Theatre last month, where it is still running.
Do you have to be a baseball fan to enjoy Honus & Me? I think you need to have some warm feelings for the sport; though there is a family story at the heart, it's a baseball story first. There are baseball facts and references as well as a reliance on what it feels like to be a diehard sports/card fan. While the story evokes thoughts of a Disney Family Channel movie, it surpasses what you might expect of that genre, with good staging and excellent performances. If your children like the made-for-TV family films, this would be a great introduction to theatre, and should show them that what's good on TV is almost always better live on stage.
At homeplate, Marcus Stevens; above, l-r: Martin Giles, Randall Newsome, Daniel Krell and Jeffrey Carpenter
Middle school age Joey Stoshack loves the game of baseball; he plays (not well) and collect baseball cards with his dad. He know the stats and has a great reverence for the hero players of baseball history. He's also awkward, a bit of an innocent, and a good kid who wishes his divorced parents would get back together. While clearing out an attic for elderly neighbor Miss Young, Joey finds the most rare baseball card of all - the T-206 Honus Wagner of the Pittsburg Pirates. Remembering that Miss Young told him to keep anything he wanted and throw the rest away, Joey begins daydreaming of what the $1 million selling price could do for his family. The daydreams turn to more, as Joey conjures up the real Honus Wagner in present day Pittsburgh, and eventually does some time travelling of his own, going back to the 1909 World Series. Lessons are learned, and hearts reunited.
Adult actor Marcus Stevens plays Joey, both in the present and in 1909 when the character supposedly appears in his adult body. It's not easy for an adult to effectively play a child without appearing obnoxious or too precious, but Stevens (Forbidden Broadway) does very well, especially showing the wide-eyed goofy nature we can all identify with as the persona of an adolescent boy. It would be interesting, however, to see the play cast with a talented younger actor as young Joey and an adult as Joey in 1909, as the "time-travel" component of the plot is a bit underdeveloped.
Stevens is supported well by Daniel Krell as Joey's dad and Robin Walsh as his mom, though neither actor has much room to stretch as they depict parents from a child's eye. Mary Rawson is excellent as Miss Young, though her role in a 1909-2006 romance is a bit of a stretch, even within the fantasy aspect of the play. Joey seems to over-estimate her age early in the play, but for the dates to match up, she is indeed impossibly old in the present day. Martin Giles has fun with a couple of small parts, particularly as Joey's youth league Coach - he isn't very coachlike, but that's what makes it funny (and not entirely unrealistic), and Jeffrey Carpenter is outstanding in the role of former WWF champion, now crooked baseball card store owner, Birdie. Randall Newsome gives a very respectable and authoritative performance as Wagner. Patrick Jordan lands some good comic bits in two very small character roles.
Tony Ferrieri once again works a wonder with the smallish City Theatre mainstage. What appears to be a vintage pro-baseball scoreboard also acts as the framework for supporting tableau scenes, and, with the floored lined off like the view from home-plate and a few other set pieces, the setting is opened up sufficiently. Andrew David Ostrowski's lighting and Joe Pino's sound design make more than a cursory contribution. Paul Tazewell makes the most of his opportunities with his costuming.
Honus & Me is not edgy, exploding with special effects or particularly daring, but its everyday story is feel-good without being mawkish: good quality family fare.
Honus & Me runs through May 28 at the City Theatre. For a schedule, most important for this production, and ticket information, call (412) 431-CITY  or visit www.citytheatrecompany.org. Late Nite Catechism 2 opens May 23 on the Lester Hamburg Studio Theatre stage.