Not long ago it was more likely that young boys knew the stats of every baseball player past and present than they did their multiplication tables. It was a more innocent era: Tobacco-chewing athletes were big-time heroes, and even the worst of little league players dreamed of making it to the big leagues.
Whether that’s still true today is debatable, but what’s not is how beautifully that atmosphere is captured by playwright Steven Dietz, director Guy Sanville and the cast of “Honus and Me” at Chelsea’s Purple Rose Theatre.
In the family-friendly “Honus and Me,” 12-year-old Joey Stoshack lives for baseball – despite the fact he’s not very good at it. The good-natured youngster doesn’t let his lack of batting skills keep him from the diamond, however, and some of his happiest hours are spent keeping the bench warm with his teammates.
It’s also where, for a short time, he doesn’t have to fret over his parents’ divorce.
While cleaning out his elderly – and very creepy – neighbor’s attic, Joey stumbles across an ancient baseball card. As an avid collector, he recognizes not only the man on the card – Honus Wagner of the Pittsburgh Pirates – but also its value: It just might be the most sought after, most valuable card ever.
Although “old” Miss Young told Joey he could keep anything he finds, the youngster is faced with a dilemma: Should he return the card and explain its value to Miss Young, or does he take her at her word and keep it – thereby hoping the riches it brings reunites his fractured family?
Plus, what’s a boy to do when he goes to bed grasping the small piece of cardboard and thinks “I wish I could meet him” – and wakes up with a baseball player from nearly a hundred years ago in his room? Who, by the way, wants to go back to face Ty Cobb and the Detroit Tigers in the final game of the 1909 World Series?
In an era that seems more obsessed with destroying its heroes than celebrating them, playwright Dietz has crafted a modern-day morality play that explores how people young and old respond to both the everyday and extraordinary challenges they face in life. It’s a timeless and magical tale that evokes nostalgia for simpler times, yet also rings true in these more cynical days. (One does have to suspend a little too much disbelief, however, when you mathematically figure out that “old” Miss Young really IS old: She can’t be a day under 115 if she was a young woman at the turn of the previous century!)
With “Honus,” director Sanville has scored a triple play this season, with yet a third slick production added to his scorecard. And he brought in an A-list roster of players to do it.
The always delightful Randall Godwin mines his minor character – Joey’s coach – for every laugh possible. And Jim Porterfield – built just like baseball player from that era – fills Honus with an honest sense of strength, nobility and character.
But it’s the very adult Nicaolas J. Smith who especially hits a home run with the show’s most difficult role – that of pre-teen Joey. The actor’s gawky body language and crackly, early-pubescent voice are quite realistic and age-appropriate, and never do they disappear – even for a moment. Equally amazing is the contrast we immediately see when Joey finds himself as an adult with Honus in the past.
The show’s only startling moment comes briefly when we realize that 6-foot-1 Ty Cobb is standing before us in the significantly shorter frame of Wayne David Parker. However, Parker’s power as an actor surely – and quickly – makes up for it.
‘Honus and Me’
“Honus and Me” runs Wed.-Sun. at the Purple Rose Theatre Company, 137 Park St., Chelsea, through Sep. 2. Tickets: $20-$35. For information: 734-433-7673 or http://www.purplerosetheatre.org.