I am struggling a bit putting together my response to the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s production of Toni Stone written by Lydia R. Diamond. This is such an engaging play that I am afraid that I won’t do it justice.
Toni Stone the character introduces us to Toni Stone and her boys, the ball team she plays for in her opening soliloquy. Tony Stone the play fills in the details with life on a ball team and vignettes around her family and personal history. And all of our stories are told by the eight men who make up the rest of her ball team. So we have actors stretching out to play multiple characters, whether it is the white team owner, Toni’s mother, the family pastor, or her best friend and confidante, Millie!
Director Tinashe Kajese-Bolden brings out the best in the story and the best in the actors. Those playing multiple roles are able to switch characters and clearly tell the story. And the choreography gives us the feel of the agility of ballplayers and their love of them game…but there is more to that…continue reading.
The obvious story is that of a woman trying to prove she is able to compete at baseball with men. Toni Stone proves that she can do that and we see that her desire to play isn’t any less of a driving force for her than the other players on her team.
But there is a lot more going on here. This is baseball in the early 1950s, Negro League baseball, Jim Crow era baseball. So beyond the story around gender roles we have the even uglier reality of racism in America. This play is a reminder of how far we’ve come but also of how far we have to go. And on top of that the play openly displays misogyny, sexism, and sexual assault/harassment. And these are presented in direct ways that raise the blood a bit and a few scenes that are rather embarrassing. Particular the scene where the Clowns have to pantomime playing ball or perform juggling or other circus type acts as part of the ball game. sigh.
But…this isn’t all drama…there is plenty of humor to be had! There is certainly a full plate of theater here.
Kedren Spencer plays Toni Stone. And she clearly shows us the athleticism and desire that is Toni Stone. And she can also move into the complaining daughter when her mother discourages her interests in favor of somethings that are more appropriate for young women…to being a bit wary or ignorant of social mores and flirting…to being direct to pursue her baseball career…to being stubborn and unaware when she says what’s on her mind and not realizing she has hurt another’s feelings. Spencer has got to be tired by the time the play ends.
My favorite actor here is Enoch A. King who plays one of the ball players but whose main character is Millie, a prostitute who becomes a mentor and best friend to Toni Stone throughout the history covered in the play. You know exactly how Millie is feeling before she says a word. King has got her down pat…facial expressions…vocal tones and intonations…and the right sashay or stride to tell us who Millie is and how she feels about the world and how she relates to Toni.
The Rep recommends this for people 12 and older. The reason here is some adult language and adult situations. But there is a lot to learn here about American sports, culture, and society beyond the incredible story of Toni Stone.