Black History and Baseball: Mr. Rickey Calls a Meeting

Black History Month 2018

Performed by LA Theatre Works in 2004 and released on audible in 2005, this stage play turned audio drama captures the theatre atmosphere while still being an experience a theater of the mind fan can enjoy. This review also first appeared on the newsletter for Audio Drama Reviews back in February for Black History Month and the release of Black Panther.

America's Favorite Pastime and African Americans in Sports - An Origin Story

The plot of Mr. Rickey Calls a Meeting is both complex and simple. Like the first season of The Bright Sessions, it's more a conversation than an actual story. In fact, there's a frame narrative at the beginning telling the listener the basic setup for the story. He makes it clear that those expecting a story will be disappointed as its just a meeting. While the character may sell the play short, it’s not true for a 21st-century audience. Again there are dozens if not hundreds of audio dramas which make due with simple concepts and amazing executions. King Falls AM is such an example. Perhaps in the late 80s and early 90s people’s opinion on story differed and what we consider bad now was good then. Maybe the claim is intentional and enhances the story by lowering our expectations. Whatever the reason, the meat of the story and the performances are what make this production come to life.

The story’s premise is about whether African-American baseball legend, Jackie Robinson will be signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers after being in the minor leagues for several years. He’d be the first black baseball player in the majors. Mr. Rickey, the owner of the Dodgers is the protagonist of the story. Played by Ed Asner (Powder Burns and Jabba the Hut in the Return of the Jedi radio drama). The character of Mr. Rickey is complicated. You understand where he’s coming from and he’s not an abhorrent racist like many in the Cold War era. He wants to integrate the two races into the major leagues. As he opposes the “Separate but Equal” slogan which lead to so many locations in the US being exactly the opposite. That being said, his motivations aren’t exactly one hundred percent altruistic, as is made clear by the story's antagonist. The one preventing Mr. Rickey from signing Jackie Robinson into the Major Leagues.

Like life itself, the competing ideologies of Branch Rickey and political activist Paul Robeson butt heads hard and often, giving the whole utilitarian viewpoint of the ends justify the means a whole new perspective. The argument against Jackie becoming a Brooklyn Dodger is that integration of whites and blacks is not the answer for racism in the baseball community. Instead Mr. Robeson says an all black team would be a better way to show support for the African American population. Mr. Rickey argues the time is right for an black ballplayer to join a white team. To which Paul retorts with why Robinson? Why not the other players who have come before?

The argument goes back and forth for most of the play and the performances of Ed Asner and Carl Lumbly as Branch Rickey and Paul Robeson, respectively is top notch. Both actors enhance and contort their character's claims through sheer skill of their performance. You become entranced in their shouting match that you begin to wonder why they're fighting in the first place. They both want the same thing, but their methods on how to achieve it are opposites of each other. It gets to the point where you're emotionally invested in one or both of these character's sides, but can't put your finger on why logically.

The trajectory of the argument mentioned above is truly a gross simplification of a complex idea, but it's truly too complicated to try and explain in a review. In fact it's still unclear as to what happened on that kind of in-depth level. Plus this is one of those things you have to experience for yourself.

4.5/5 Stars

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