Play ball! The Human Race Theatre Company turns back the clock to 1989 as its 32nd season opens with the world premiere of Patricia O’Hara’s intriguing sports drama “Banned from Baseball,” slated to run Sept. 6-23 at the Loft Theatre.
The play chronicles one of the most hotly debated topics in sports history. The war of words and controversial debate stemming from Major League Baseball Commissioner Bart Giamatti’s decision to ban Cincinnati Reds player and manager Pete Rose from the league.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
Despite evidence to the contrary, Rose denies accusations he placed bets on baseball, including the Reds. Giamatti particularly wants Rose’s confession. But Rose, who broke Ty Cobb’s all-time hits record in 1985, wants him to believe his denials. As this battle of wills intensifies, O’Hara inserts pivotal supporting players including lawyer John Dowd, whose “Dowd Report” concluded Rose did bet on baseball in the mid-1980s. This led to his permanent ineligibility to play and prevention from Hall of Fame consideration.
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“I’ve always found this story riveting and compelling,” said O’Hara, a professor of English Literature at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. She continues to teach the successful, unique course Baseball in American Literature and Culture. “This is a story that, in some ways, doesn’t end. What I found particularly compelling were its human dimensions and the ways in which it resonates in baseball history and problems with gambling. What does the Hall of Fame mean? What are the ways we attach enormous meanings to baseball? I still find Pete Rose a very interesting human being. I hope this play appeals to people who really love baseball and people who really love a good story.”
“We are thrilled to be selected to premiere this exciting new play,” said Kevin Moore, Human Race President and Artistic Director. “This story hits home to so many in our region, and we are honored to be the ones to tell the story. Telling great stories that touch our lives is a big part of our mission. We are in Reds Country, so the idea of premiering this play is exciting. I’m not the biggest baseball fan in the world, but I was totally engaged reading this play, which was brought to us by director Margarett Perry who worked on it in New York.”
A PASSION FOR PREMIERES
Marking her 10th return to the Loft Theatre and having notably staged a terrifically hilarious production of “The House” last season, Margarett Perry admittedly adores staging new works, especially world premieres.
“I’m absolutely passionate about them,” said Perry. “I knew where I wanted to take the script, but I didn’t want to give it to Kevin until it was ready. But I gave it to him last year, and I’m so glad he liked it. To be able to do this play at the Human Race is a dream. I am beyond happy to work on this amazing play with an amazing writer.”
As rehearsals progress, Perry acknowledges baseball serves as the play’s connective tissue, but fundamentally it’s about the two fascinatingly distinct men at its core.
“This play is about men who are human, flawed and passionate,” she explained. “They are extremely passionate about what they believe in and what has meaning for them. Yes, they make mistakes, but that’s what life is. Patricia has captured a journey of two men and I’m absolutely thrilled to bring this play to (Dayton).”
Perry’s cast of five features Brian Dykstra (Broadway’s “Lucky Guy” opposite Tom Hanks, the Human Race’s “One Slight Hitch”) as Pete Rose, Chicago actor and Human Race newcomer Doug MacKechnie as Bart Giamatti, Scott Hunt (Human Race’s “The Glass Menagerie” and “Sweeney Todd” among others) as Fay Vincent, Marc Moritz (Human Race’s “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”) as Reuven Katz, and K.L. Storer (Human Race’s “Caroline, or Change” and “Fiddler on the Roof”) as John Dowd. Fittingly, famed Cincinnati Reds sportscaster Marty Brenneman will provide voiceovers throughout the play.
Designers include Tamara L. Honesty, whose work will evoke Riverfront Stadium; costumer Janet Powell who will be responsible for the production’s 15 vintage suits as the action transpires between 1989 and 2014; and Human Race resident artists John Rensel (lighting) and Jay Brunner (sound).
THE AUDIENCE DECIDES
“Banned from Baseball” is O’Hara’s playwrighting debut. Having immersed herself in research from reading various newspaper accounts and hefty legal depositions to watching hours of YouTube footage, she says she purposefully chose not to frame the play for or against any particular person or viewpoint.
“I tried not to take sides,” she said. “I also thought a lot about why Pete Rose’s story resonated for me, (especially the themes of) self-betrayal and fathers and sons. I didn’t want to offer an opinion. I wanted to afford these characters respect because they’re human beings.”
“Very masterfully, Patricia has created a play that doesn’t take sides,” Moore echoed. “There’s no judgment in the play. It’s all put out there for the audience to make a decision.”
“I’m telling my most ardent Pete Rose fans, the ones that would not admit he didn’t do anything wrong ever, to see this play (and) I’m trusting they’re not going to throw things at us,” added Hunt, a longtime Rose fan. “I do believe if you are someone who will walk into the show with a huge chip on your shoulder for love for Pete, which is normal in this area, you’re going to walk out of the show feeling he was treated fairly.”