Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Toni Stone (Santoya Fields) is a little-known pivotal figure in the history of baseball: in 1953 she became the first woman to play on a men's professional team, the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League. Playwright Lydia R. Diamond's story is placed in a stylized setting of bleachers and floodlights (set design by Riccardo Hernández, lighting design by Allen Lee Hughes) with a versatile eight-man ensemble playing most of the men (and a few of the women) in Toni's life.
As embodied by Fields, Toni is a magnetic personality with a desire to play pro baseball and the ability and confidence to back up her dreams. To her, baseball is a metaphor for life: everything of importance can be summed up by the weight of the ball in her hand. On the other hand, as skilled as Negro League players were, they were also expected to "bring the show" and act foolish for white audiences, and she also faced some antagonism as a woman in a male-dominated profession.
Camille A. Brown has created all-encompassing choreography for the baseball game sequences, bringing her actors together in synchronized yet individual movement to the sound design and original music of Broken Chord.
Of course, the play also offers scenes of Toni's life off the ballfield. She wears men's clothes and negotiates a relationship with a businessman named Alberga (smooth Aldo Billingslea), who has to learn that she takes care of herself first. Other supporting characters include an Irish priest who encourages young Toni to play on the boys' baseball team at Catholic school, a coach for white boys whom she wins over through sheer persistence, and Kenn E. Head in a lovely performance as a "working girl" who befriends Toni. The supporting actors all play members of the Clowns as well, but Gilbert Lewis Bailey II sparkles as small, smart, and big-talking Spec.
Toni Stone runs through October 3, 2021, in the Kreeger Theater at Arena Stage's Mead Center for American Theater, 1101 Sixth St. SW, Washington, DC. For tickets and information, please call 202-488-3300 or visit www.arenastage.org.
By Lydia R. Diamond