by Matt Ritchey and Bob Rich
BlackBalled is an intimate new play that helps us better appreciate the impressive athletes in Negro League Baseball via a team owner’s struggle to bring an underfunded league to prominence during the first half of the 20th Century.
BlackBalled tells the story of a crucial (and historically overlooked) moment in the Negro Baseball Leagues when two league owners clash not only with a new rival owner, but the oncoming integration and rise to prominence of a certain talented individual.
Matthew Robinson’s script is thick, but his actors tackle it beautifully, giving us a taste of segregated American baseball before everything changed.
The true-life people portrayed in the play are: 1) Effa Manley (played by Asia Lynn Pitts), sports executive and baseball team co-owner who became the first and thus far the only woman inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame; 2) Cumberland Posey (Alex Skinner), baseball player, manager and team owner, the only man to be inducted into the Baseball and Basketball Halls of Fame; 3) Gus Greenlee (Twon Pope), baseball team owner, the first African-American to own his own baseball field; 4) Jackie Robinson (David Cork), the first African-American to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball; and 5) John Fletcher (Robby DeVillez), a distinguished baseball player from the era.
There’s some very nice staging, though needing some work with transition time, particularly how Robinson juxtaposes the backroom offices with bleacher seats to shift tone. The character drama is drowned by the overall story. But the across-the-board great actors, who put genuine enthusiasm into every phrase, as they discuss the professional and personal sides of baseball, make BlackBalled an engaging hour of theatrical history.
According to writer/director Matthew S. Robinson his play is a labor of love. It certainly shows.