Playwright: Stephen Dietz
At: Chicago Children's Theatre at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn
Phone: 312-443-3800; $15-$38
Through: Aug. 26
BY SCOTT C. MORGAN
If the Windy City wants to genuinely live up to its reputation as a baseball town, then there should be no unsold seats for Chicago Children's Theatre's Honus and Me. This is the kind of play that not only shows children's theater at its best, but one that helps instill the love of America's baseball pastime between the generations.
Honus and Me is an adaptation of one of Dan Gutman's many novels involving modern kids meeting legendary baseball players. The series of books may be formulaic, but Stephen Dietz's theatrical adaptation of Honus and Me works wonderfully on its own—especially under the insightful direction of Sean Graney of The Hypocrites.
Even before the play starts, Graney's staging sets the atmosphere perfectly: Ushers hawk programs as if they were peanuts while the baseball-uniformed cast plays catch with the kids in the audience. I'd forgotten how joyful it is to see kids get excited just by being able to catch and toss a ball. ( Luckily, these balls are soft enough not to hurt when adults are repeatedly beaned in the head. )
The play itself revolves around Joey Stoshack ( Tim Rock ) , a not-so-good Little Leaguer who still carries the hope that his divorced parents ( Amy J. Carle and Sean Cooper ) might get back together one day. While cleaning the attic of elderly spinster Miss Young ( Jane Alderman ) , Joey discovers an extremely rare ( and magical ) 1909 Honus Wagner T-206 baseball card.
If the card is real, will the untold millions help bring Joey's parents back together? Or will Joey do the right thing and return the card to its rightful owner? And what about unscrupulous baseball card shop owners Birdie and Chuck ( Jose Antonio Garcia and Matthew Holzfeind ) , who are out to steal the card? And is Joey really being visited by the real Pittsburgh Pirates Hall of Famer Honus Wagner ( Eric Slater ) , or is it all a dream?
Finding out the answers to all these questions, as Joey gets a lesson in self-esteem and honesty, is what will help keep kids rapt with the play. Dietz also has parents in mind, with plenty of knowing jokes to keep them entertained and chuckling throughout.
Graney's staging benefits greatly from a skilled cast that switches in and out of roles spanning the decades and generations. The sophisticated staging also is a credit to the production design team of set designer Todd Rosenthal's baseball-bleacher sets; costumer Allison Siple's modern and historic baseball uniforms; sound designer Andre Pluess, who conjures up real ball games aurally; and lighting designer Heather Gilbert, who shades and focuses all the time-shifting magic effectively.
Even if it's about a famous player belonging to a non-Chicago team, Honus and Me does draw connections to Chicago. ( Listen for that ubiquitous Journey song at key moments. ) But, more importantly, Honus and Me is a perfect baseball-themed outing for fathers and their kids ( or at least in-the-know aunts and uncles, in case their nieces and nephews have fathers who are clueless culture boors ) .