“A League of Their Own” chronicled the first female professional baseball players, while “42” followed Jackie Robinson as the first Black player in Major League Baseball.
The new play “Toni Stone” combines both to follow the first woman to play professional ball in the Negro Leagues, a fascinating production now through Oct. 3 at Arena Stage.
“This is a woman who just wanted to play ball,” Artistic Director Molly Smith told WTOP. “It’s a fascinating story, one that people are going to find completely inspirational. When I’m thinking of young people … they’re going to see something that is going to energize them about their lives and what they can do with their lives, because she was gusty.”
Starring Santoya Fields, the show covers all of the bases of social commentary.
“It is a story about racial strife, what happened to baseball players in certain cities around America, and what happened to women in terms of gender,” Smith said. “She wasn’t particularly accepted by everybody. … A woman who can play baseball? What is a woman supposed to do except to stay home, be a good wife and take care of the house?”
Based on Martha Ackmann’s book “Curveball: The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone,” the story is adapted for the stage by playwright Lydia R. Diamond (“Smart People”).
“Samantha Barry, who is a wonderful producer, came to me close to a decade ago, gave me the book ‘Curveball’ and said, ‘Do you know this story?'” Smith said. “I took a look at the book and said, ‘We’re in.’ Then started a long move toward production. She brought in Lydia Diamond, who is an exquisite writer. … Pam MacKinnon was brought in as director.”
It was first performed at the Roundabout Theatre in New York before moving to San Francisco, where it opened and closed on the same night due to the pandemic in 2020.
“We’ve had the set sitting in our shop now for a year and a half, waiting,” Smith said. “The theater is open and back. We did a ton virtually. … Everybody has been chomping at the bit to get back. It’s been 18 months now and we’re roaring back.”
How does the production recreate the 1950s ballpark atmosphere?
“It is old-style uniforms,” Smith said. “People will see huge lights. You’ll have a sense that you’re at a ballfield. You’ll have bleachers as well. You’ll see all the guys playing as well.”
Best of all, the show will be simulcast for free at Nationals Park on Sunday at 7:30 p.m.
“We are going to do a free live simulcast of the play at Nationals Park on the centerfield video board for thousands to experience,” Smith said. “It will probably be the most people we can perform for at one time because we can get up to 12,000. … A number of the actors will come Zooming over before the performance to wave hello to everybody.”
The concessions will be open at Nats Park for the full ballpark experience.
“They can have hot dogs and beer,” Smith said. “They will see information about the Negro Leagues, ‘Toni Stone,’ shows we’re going to be doing in the upcoming season. It’s going to be a real treat. In the meantime, people who see the play live at Arena Stage in person might then want to go to the simulcast as well, so it’s fun to do. You can do it both ways.”
Audiences must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a recent negative test.
Masks are required indoors at Arena Stage.