It’s a rare drama that can compete with a playoff football game in my sportcentric house.
But “Mr. Rickey Calls A Meeting,” which just opened at Lookingglass Theatre, held its own against the Denver/San Francisco game last Saturday night. My husband turned off his blackberry and stayed tuned into the drama onstage—a sure sign of an engaging play.
The premise is that Branch Rickey, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers is about to call up Jackie Robinson from the minors, but before he does, he wants the support of the elite black community: Joe Louis, Paul Robeson and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. The 5 men meet, and clash over the implications that integrating the major leagues will have on the Negro League and on Robinson.
Each man has paid a tremendous cost to achieve success in the racist society of the 1940s, and as they argue, you see the strain and the exhaustion of each man. The comedic relief—and the awe the audience feels at being in the presence of sports legends—is expressed by Kevin Douglas as a very entertaining bellman, Clancy Hope. Javon Johnson as Jackie Robinson and Anthony Fleming III as a fading Joe Lewis, fill the stage with controlled rage and power. You could feel the audience holding its breath at a moment when Lewis is about to explode.
This play is ideal for drama fans, but also for their sports-loving spouses and mature teens. The language is authentic to the time, but won’t shock teens who have ever heard a rap song. A quick background discussion in the car on the way down to the theater about Bojangles, Robeson and the Negro League will help a teen understand the characters.
And while the sports drama gets them interested, the play will leave them thinking (and hopefully talking) about race and society, what we owe our friends, and how one person’s actions can make a difference.
Photo by Ed Schmidt courtesy of Lookingglass Theatre.