Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 3, 2024

Review: Playhouse on Park, “Toni Stone”

Playhouse on Park, West Hartford, CT
through June 16, 2024
by Shera Cohen

Temptation was to skip a play about baseball, albeit a potentially interesting subject matter of a woman, a black woman, in the 1930’s – 50’s, in a man’s world of the great American pastime. “Toni Stone” is testament to cease prejudging.

Toni Stone, the first woman player on an American major-level professional baseball team -- a regular for the Indianapolis Clowns in the Negro American League -- is the central character, who stands onstage from the opening scene caressing her baseball to the last scene a few decades later, trading in her apron for a return to baseball. Not to worry; this is not a spoiler.

Photo by Meredith Longo
Constance Sadie Thompson portrays Toni as a plucky young gal who knows early-on that baseball will be her life-time career. More than that, it will be her self-described mission to prove to the world and to herself that she is the best. Thompson, a non-Equity actor, creates Toni as a spitfire who is full of bravado; yet in many cases is scared and sensitive. 
Thompson is a young actress who seemingly, easily, carries the play’s weight on her shoulders. She is literally in the center of the stage and dialog throughout the 2.5 hours; a herculean role.

A suggestion to Director Jamil A.C. Mangan might want to cut several scenes and trim others. While almost reading like a beautiful poem to baseball, the opening five minutes introduce the play to its audience at such a slow pace that the actors are burdened with a stagnant start to launch action. The play is in its infancy, written in 2019, so there is time edit if needed.
The story is a biography of Toni Stone. The majority of the other cast members, all black males, become the ballplayers of the team; also cast in double and triple roles. The director distinguishes each player as a singular person, not merely one among many.

Branden Alvion as Millie, the woman of the night, gives the audience a personification of drama and commentary on men of that era, when congregated, can be cruel to women. Millie and Toni become friends; each at diverse ends of the definition of female. Their story is heartfelt and lovely, primarily because of Alvion’s talent.

Costumes are period baseball uniforms, primarily 1940’s. Even when actors portray roles that are not in the world of baseball, the costumes never change, yet all is clear to the audience.
At two points, “Toni Stone” pumps up the action with music and dance; quite fun at first. Later on, choreographer Maurice Clark gradually turns the baseball players/dancers 180 degrees; a joyful movement segueing into slaves’ lament in the fields of the America. The play becomes dark and raw; no longer fun and “games”.

This venue (POP) has a reputation of producing atypical, new, and/or relatively unknown plays. “Toni Stone” is among them. Those who don’t care much for baseball might become fans of POP and Toni’s near homerun.