Chicago Theatre Review
Well-played game at Lookingglass, ‘Mr. Rickey Calls a Meeting’
By Devlyn Camp
In an effort to do some good, Branch Rickey began to take the necessary steps to integrate Major League Baseball in the early 1940s by creating a plan to sign Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Through the newest Lookingglass production Mr. Rickey Calls A Meeting, a fictional encounter of entertainment and baseball legends is played out. Legends attending in Ed Schmidt’s story include boxer Joe Louis, tap dancing king Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, actor and suspected communist supporter Paul Robeson, and of course Jackie Robinson (who, to the baseball illiterate, was the first black player admitted to the Major League since the 1880s). Also in and out of the meeting, to our comic relief, is Clancy the young bellhop and baseball fan.
In an engaging conversation, Rickey (Larry Neumann, Jr.) explains his plan to the gentlemen in order to create a unanimous agreement to support integrating the league. For Bojangles, this means risking his partial ownership of a Negro National League team. Robeson spends the act trying to understand Rickey’s hidden motivations, while Louis seems to be supportive either way. As the gentlemen argue, Clancy (Kevin Douglas) runs errands for Mr. Rickey, all the while persistently trying to snag autographs from his heroes. Douglas is quick-witted with great timing to match Bojangles actor Ernest Perry, who is purely delightful in his character.
On a half-diamond hotel room set lined by the powder of a baseline, Rickey breaks down the plan of a quiet revolutionless integration. Faithful to the facts, he asks Robinson to actually not fight the forthcoming disagreements, but to have “guts enough not to fight back.” As in many stories of integration, the plan must be executed with the right amount of theatrics in order to save face. It becomes clear that Rickey’s plan is not just altruistic, but self-serving, as black fans of the Yankees will move over to the Dodgers, as well as fans from the Negro National League. Through Clancy’s innocent eyes, as it wasn’t evident before, his heroes have their own demons. Bojangles is a gambler, Louis has anger issues, and Robeson, well, the communist issue comes up often, naturally. The conversation turns out the pros and cons of showmanship and reputation versus making radical change for the better. Money’s worth seems to hold more power than moral worth. As we can see by looking at MLB today, everything turned out to be copacetic.
MR RICKEY CALLS A MEETING
Through February 19th, 2012
Tickets $20-$68, available at lookingglasstheatre.org
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