How does a nation treat a trailblazer? Does it celebrate them? Persecute them? Use them? For Toni Stone, the first woman to play professional baseball in the Negro Leagues, the answer lay somewhere in the middle of all three.
Playwright Lydia R. Diamond has brought Toni Stone’s extraordinary true story to the stage for the first time, delving into the mind of a woman who, though unknown to many, rippled the very fabric of history. Vaulting through Stone’s memories, Lydia uncovers the superhuman resolve that makes possible so unprecedented an undertaking and explores the compromises all too often demanded of women of color who dare to shatter the status quo.
On tour with her team, the Indianapolis Clowns, in the 1940s, Stone forged a career that was at once an historic opportunity and a perpetual exploitation. She bore the brunt of her sport’s hostility toward a female player, while serving as a “novelty” for her team owner to market to fans. She navigated the complicated dynamics of her teammates – men who regarded her with a mixture of admiration, resentment, and animosity. She sought honest companionship in a world of people interested in her for all the wrong reasons. All of this, while playing a sensational ballgame.
How did she do it? Lydia’s play, based on the groundbreaking biography Curveball: The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone by Martha Ackmann, gives vivid voice to a woman who excelled at her sport, even as her baseball community fixated on her gender over her ability. Infused with choreography by Tony Award® nominee Camille A. Brown, Stone’s journey both on and off the field quite literally springs into being with movement inspired by Negro League games themselves. Obie Award-winning actress April Matthis steps deftly into the character of Stone, leading a cast of eight other captivating actors as they bring to life the many figures populating Stone’s memories. And director Pam MacKinnon, a Tony Award winner and Roundabout Associate Artist, injects Stone’s story with an explosive theatricality and bold immediacy.
I am thrilled to be giving this phenomenal new play, which Lydia, Camille, and Pam have developed over the last several years, its world premiere production at the Laura Pels Theatre. Though the game may have changed in the decades since Toni Stone took to the field, her fight continues to this day: a fight for equality, for agency, for the chance for all to play on their own terms. Her story needs to be remembered, and I am so excited for you to experience it here on the Roundabout stage.
As always, I am eager to hear your thoughts, so please continue to email me at ArtisticOffice@roundabouttheatre.org with your reactions. I can’t tell you how greatly I value your feedback.
I look forward to seeing you at the theatre!