It’s one of several speeches that Toni delivers throughout the play about what the sport means to her, about “feeling the game” and “finding the rhythm” or “letting it find you.” Whether or not you fully grasp what she sometimes struggles for the words to convey, the beauty and power of Spencer’s performance is that you don’t need to know that much about baseball, or to even be a fan of it, necessarily, to appreciate how profoundly the pastime resonates with Toni.
She introduces her teammates in a spirited roll call, the first of a few routines in the show to feature the vigorous choreography of Dell Howlett, exuberantly executed by a versatile ensemble of actors (with an affectionate nod of sorts to the Harlem Globetrotters). Many of the men also have occasion to pinch-hit playing other roles in formative flashbacks from Toni’s life.
Amar Atkins, for instance, enjoys a couple of humorous scenes as Toni’s bossy mother. By swiping the palms of their hands in front of their faces (and with a slight assist from designer Sharath Patel’s sound effects), they represent some white characters, too — like Clowns owner Sol Pollock (Dane Troy), a genial Irish priest (Lau’rie Roach), or, most hauntingly, a crowd of angry spectators hurling racial epithets at the Black players during a game. (The evocative lighting, by the way, is designed by Thom Weaver.)
Elsewhere, two of Atlanta’s finest talents register strongly: Eric J. Little as the jovial team joker (whose story about his cheating wife is priceless), and Geoffrey D. Williams as a reader of W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington (and something of an etymology expert). So does Milwaukee-based Dimonte Henning as the play’s principal antagonist (besides, that is, the motley racists the team encounters while barnstorming across the segregated South).
Standing apart quite formidably in the supporting cast are New York actor Sekou Laidlow and local favorite Enoch King. Laidlow’s Alberga initially comes across as a “sweet-talking” love interest for Toni, before subtly evolving into an activist on “civic matters,” impressing upon her the importance of voting and paying taxes. Later, he counsels her from the sidelines in negotiating the salary she deserves, and about balancing her pride with her desire to play ball.
At first flush, King has the rather unenviable task of resorting to drag in order to portray Millie, the proprietress of a backwoods brothel who takes Toni under her maternal wing. But, as their relationship develops and deepens over the course of the story, King brilliantly transforms what could have been a silly sight gag or a gamey caricature into an entirely credible and authentic woman — virtually every bit as much so as Diamond’s eponymous heroine herself.
Through Feb. 27. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 8 p.m. Fridays; 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays. $25-$78 ($10 for teens). Alliance Theatre (at the Woodruff Arts Center), 1280 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 404-733-5000, www.alliancetheatre.org.
Bottom line: An amazing true story, thrillingly realized.