By Hedy Weiss
July 30, 2007
With its challenging yet utterly beguiling production of “Honus and Me” — the fourth and final entry in its inaugural season — Chicago Children’s Theatre has scored its first true home run. The show, now at the Goodman’s Owen Theatre, is a model of creative teamwork, with all involved playing at the very top of their game.
Of course in this city, any baseball-themed drama has an almost built-in power to lure audiences of all ages. But “Honus and Me” — Steven Dietz’s hugely engaging stage adaptation of the first of seven books in Dan Gutman’s young adult series of “baseball card adventures” — is far more than a simple sports story. It is a seamless blend of history, time travel, family tensions, economic problems, career disappointments, moral dilemmas and the power of love and dreams.
All this in a rapid-fire 80 minutes orchestrated to perfection by Sean Graney, a director who brings the same sense of play and intensity to his young audiences work as he does to his searing adult productions for the Hypocrites. (Will someone please hire this man for a mainstage show on one of the city’s high-profile stages?)
But back to “Honus.” It’s the story of Joey Stoshak (played by Tim Rock, who could not be more natural, charming or emotionally fine-tuned), who adores baseball but is a completely inept shortstop on his local team. Making matters worse is the fact that he often spends the aftermath of many games trying to balance competing loyalties to his divorced, financially strapped parents, deftly played by Amy J. Carle and Sean Cooper.
When Joey takes a one-day job cleaning out the attic of an aging neighbor, Miss Young (a delicious comic turn by Jane Alderman), he discovers an impossibly valuable baseball card — the Honus Wagner T-206, which celebrates the legendary career of the man who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the early 1900s and is widely considered one of the sport’s greatest all-around players. The card, worth more than $2 million, becomes both a curse and a turning point for Joey.
Graney and his cast (including Eric Slater in an ideally understated portrait of Honus) achieve a perfect mix of realism and fantasy, comedy and pain. And with support from actors John Steven Crowley, Matthew Holzfeind and Jose Antonio Garcia, the baseball diamond — beautifully designed by Todd Rosenthal (set) and Heather Gilbert (lights) — glitters from first pitch to last.