TR Robertson –The latest play at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park, “Under a Baseball Sky”, was commissioned by the Globe, premiering coincidently around the start of the Major League Baseball season. The play, written by Jose Cruz Gonzalez, centers around a small part of a Latino community that could easily said to be Logan Heights, now Barrio Logan, and the importance baseball played in this community. Along the way, a bit of baseball history many do not know about is shared about the early history of Latinos playing baseball in the 1920’s and beyond is unveiled.
Unlike “American Mariachi”, also written by Gonzalez, premiering at the Globe in 2018, there is no music central to this story. Instead, the story centers around the change in a community, the struggles to maintain a sense of community and the struggles of two families dealing with very personal issues in the community. “Under a Baseball Sky” is directed by Globe Resident Artist James Vasquez, who also directed “American Mariachi”.
“Under a Baseball Sky” is not set in a specific city or in a specific time period. Joseph Morales plays Chava, a social worker assigned to supervise young men who have been assigned to him by juvenile courts. Morales has performed in several national tours and regional theatre around the country. He has been assigned to supervise Teo, played by Diego Josef, making his stage debut. Teo threatened a boy at his high school and now has been assigned community service at what was once a baseball field for the Latino communities baseball team. Teo is also an aspiring baseball player, but now cannot participate at his school. Next to the baseball field is the home of Eli, played by Laura Crotte, making her Old Globe debut. Eli is an elderly lady, could be 70, could be 80 or older, she won’t tell. The ball field carries a lot of history and memories for her, especially centering around her daughter Paloma, once a star softball player, and her son Santiago, once an aspiring baseball player. Paloma mysteriously disappeared 40 years ago when she was fighting for union rights for Latino workers and Santiago was an Army corporal who died when he was hit by a car. Paloma is played by Ana Nicolle Chavez and Cesar J. Rosado plays Santiago. We learn the story of Paloma and Santiago through several flashbacks and they appear as “spirits” whose memory haunt both Eli and Teo, but also help inspire them to move forward with their lives to make changes necessary to achieve any dreams they might have.
Gonzalez has Eli, Laura Crotte, speak in Spanish for most of the first half of the 90 minute play, but through her actions the audience understands what she is trying to communicate. Morales, Chava, also assists in deciphering the intentions Eli wants everyone to understand. Crotte presents Eli with humor at times, compassion at times, and filled with guilt at times. Her scene in a catcher’s outfit, trying to help Teo learn how to pitch correctly, is priceless as she develops a friendship with Teo. For a first-time performer on stage, Diego Josef does a creditable job presenting Teo as a troubled young man who is also dealing with extreme home problems centered around his mother and her deportation. Gonzalez also has Chava, Joseph Morales, relate a great deal of history surrounding the importance of baseball to the Latino community and the history of Latinos in the early development of baseball as a national pastime. Most people have heard about the problem of discrimination of blacks in the beginning days of baseball, but many have not heard of the same treatment Latinos went through trying to break into professional baseball. This play also serves as a baseball education for what many were not aware.
Ana Nicolle Chavez presents an emotional Paloma fighting for the rights of Latinos in the United States and Cesar J. Rosado presents Santiago as the stoic big brother who feels he has a sense of duty he must perform, but resents what he finds out his mother did that might have cost Paloma her life.
Anna Louzos turned the theater in the round stage into a square baseball lot and made it seem bigger than it was for the baseball scenes. Other members of the production team assisting Director James Vasquez included Costume Designer Danielle Nieves, Lighting Designer Rui Rita, Sound Designer Leon Rothenberg, Associate Director Noelle Marion, Baseball Coach Pedro Ortiz Vasquez, fight Consultant Ka’imi Kuoha, and Production Stage Manager Jess Slocum.
“Under a Baseball Sky” is at the Conrad Prebys Theatre Center of The Old Globe and in the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre. It will be on stage until March 12th. Tickets are available at www.theoldglobe.org or call 619-234-5623.