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There's much to like about 'Yogi'
THEATER, BY BOB ABELMAN
There's much to like about 'Yogi'
This has been a difficult year to be a Cleveland Indians fan. In addition to finishing the season with an embarrassing 65-97 record, the team and its fans had to witness the dreaded New York Yankees win yet another World Series, the 27th championship in the rival franchise's irritatingly excessive storied history.
One of the Yankees' many stories is currently being told on the Actors' Summit stage in Hudson, and one has to wonder whether anyone in Northeast Ohio would find it remotely entertaining with the memory of last season still sensitive to the touch.
The answer is yes, considering that it is about Yogi Berra. As the title of this one-act, one-man play by Tom Lysaght suggests, "Nobody Don't like Yogi."
Yogi was as unlikely a hero on the diamond as he is in this docudrama. Standing only 5-foot-8, he gave the impression of "being welded together from hips to knees, running like a fat girl in a tight skirt," noted a Life magazine reporter early in Yogi's major-league career. According to hall-of-famer Mel Ott, Yogi "looked as if he was doing everything wrong."
Yet he was catcher for the Yankees from 1946 to 1963, played on 10 World Series champions, won three most-valuable-player awards and managed both the Yankees and the Mets into the World Series.
Most telling about the man is that he was invited to 15 all-star games, events that are as much popularity contests as they are about athletic prowess. Yogi was an approachable and unpretentious ballplayer on a franchise rarely associated with such qualities, which resonated with fans.
He was also a much-quoted ballplayer. With an eighth-grade education and coming from an immigrant household, he fractured the English language and pieced it back together in unintentionally intriguing ways. This delighted reporters, although Yogi claimed that "I never said most of the things I said."
"Nobody Don't Like Yogi" played off-Broadway in 2003 and enjoyed a national tour in 2005. It is set on "Yogi Berra Day" in 1999, a day that marked Yogi's first visit to Yankee Stadium in 14 years, having vowed to never return after being unceremoniously fired as manager by egomaniacal team owner George Steinbrenner. Nervous about making a speech, Yogi wanders around the locker room and reminisces about his personal and professional life.
Baseball has long been a backdrop for commentary about the human condition, taking on homosexuality ("Take Me Out"), racism ("Fences") and mortality ("Damn Yankees"). "Nobody Don't Like Yogi" has no such pretense. Mr. Lysaght's script is as mild-mannered and as inoffensive as Yogi himself and, like the pastoral pastime it describes, is frequently slow, uneventful and meandering.
Coming in for the save is equity actor George Roth. Mr. Roth is marvelous as Yogi. His approach to acting is much like Yogi's self-described approach to baseball -- "90 percent mental and the other half is physical" -- and he gives it his all in this production. When Roth-as-Yogi talks about family and baseball, which is all he talks about in this play, it comes deep from within and is immediately engaging.
Director Neil Thackaberry gives Mr. Roth little to work with on stage. The space is void of baseball artifacts to establish the Yankee legacy or scenery and set pieces to establish a sense of time and place, save for a desk and some metalwork made to resemble lockers. Photos of ballplayers and family members are projected throughout the performance, like closed captioning for the fan impaired. This production is all Mr. Roth all the time, and, as Yogi himself would say, "You can observe a lot just by watching."
Despite possessing greater stature, grace and diction than Yogi, Mr. Roth captures all that is essential and endearing about the man. It is not difficult to imagine you are spending a private few moments with the real thing.
You don't have to like the Yankees to like Yogi, and you don't need to appreciate baseball to find pleasure in this production.
"Nobody Don't Like Yogi" ain't over till it's over, and it's over Jan. 24. Tickets can be purchased at (330) 342-0800.
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