World premiere Under a Baseball Sky has officially opened at The Old Globe, where it runs through March 12. Presented in the round at the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre and directed by James Vásquez, this Globe-commissioned story explores the influence of la comunidad Latina in baseball and organized labor, as well as the reverse: the influence of baseball and community activism on Mexican American communities like Logan Heights. Exquisitely crafted and performed, José Cruz González’s Under a Baseball Sky is a celebration of tenacity, perseverance, community responsibility, and the ways that we lift one another up in our darkest hours.
As the play opens and young Teo wrestles with the consequences of his recent expulsion from high school, he finds himself assigned to clean up a vacant lot and repair a shed belonging to an elderly neighbor. While initially resentful and resistant to his mentors, neighbor Eli and court-ordered supervisor Chava, a mutual love of baseball and an uncovering of traumas past and present begin to thaw icy edges on both sides.
Containing depictions of violence and the processing of deep emotions, Under a Baseball Sky does not tread lightly. Eli has lost those who are dear to her and, via flashbacks featuring daughter Paloma and son Santiago, the audience witnesses profound joys and tragic heartbreaks firsthand. Similarly, we are privy to Teo’s devastation; his widowed mother is detained for a broken tail light and, without her wallet in the vehicle, is subsequently taken into custody by immigration officials, despite her naturalization status.
Carrying this emotional baggage is a heavy burden for actors Eli (Laura Crotte) and Teo (Diego Josef) and requires meticulous timing and studied character consistency for Chava (Joseph Morales), Paloma (Ana Nicolle Chavez), and Santiago (Cesar J. Rosado), but each of them is up to the task… or, as they say, game day ready. Crotte in particular is outstanding in her debut at The Old Globe; she offers a brilliant and affecting delivery in the play’s most devastating as well as humorous moments and embodies the role to her bones. Also seemingly effortless and believable is Morales’ performance as ever-hopeful not-probation-officer Chava, whose mother lives next door (and whose presence there is a perfect tool for manipulating him). Chava is as much a part of the community as Eli herself; he is determined to connect and serve, and is utterly likable throughout the production, even as he helps the characters navigate their challenges.
This play also generates space for conversation, with many one liners that signal the inequitable state of affairs with which immigrant communities must contend. Even as “kids become a part of the American fabric” in a “rigged boxing match,” with what is described as “hopes held up by prayer,” in González’s hands, Teo is forced to reckon with what kind of person he will become when “life throws… curveballs.” In response, Chava entreats him, “talent is universal; opportunity is not” and “sometimes when you’re down in the count, you have to stand up and take a swing,” and, while the baseball references are cliché, they are effective in the scope of the story.
To set the scene, designer Anna Louizos has created a vacant lot enclosed within a chain-link fence with a screen door and porch steps at one corner and a chicken-wire shed door at the opposite end. A significant amount of stage business has been created for the performers to engage in throughout the show as they gradually clear the congestion of trash and memories from the lot. This shift is figurative – as what is initially tense and cluttered eventually begins to unveil a deeper connection in the context of its surroundings… much like the characters’ relationships with one another.
Well-placed and creative light beams, shadows, and stained glass effects by lighting designer Rui Rita add stunning depth to a small space and effectively signal time and reality shifts, in tandem with Tony Award-winning sound designer Leon Rothenberg’s exceptionally curated and applied sound plot. Baseball sounds (from the give of a weathered glove to the crack of a homerun off the bat) are balanced with refrains of Cielito Lindo, the swoosh of passing cars, and the ambient noises of overhead planes and passing ambulances.
Additionally, costume designer Danielle Nieves has selected and created costume pieces that fit well with both the more realistic and dreamlike elements of the production and production baseball coach Pedro Ortiz Vásquez has done an excellent job at coaching the actors into lifelike game elements throughout the show. The atmospheric energy created by the synergy of these various design elements is a testament to the skill of this team and the work that they have put into this production alongside the director, cast and crew.
The term “baseball sky,” as presented in the show, refers to a space where miracles can happen. This seems appropriate for this triumph of a play which carries a message of hope and found-family in the face of tragedy and the scars of the past.
Under a Baseball Sky runs at The Old Globe through March 12.