Spokane, Wash. – National Pastime, an award-winning play, is returning to Spokane this week for the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s historic MLB debut. As a part of the newly introduced Major League Baseball campaign, “The Nine”, meant to celebrate and honor the impact of black baseball pioneers and further diversify the business of baseball, the Spokane Indians Baseball Team has proudly joined forces with Spokane Civic Theatre to co-produce National Pastime.
Written by Spokane’s own Bryan Harnetiaux, National Pastime follows the journeys of Jackie Robinson, the first Black player in Major League Baseball, and Branch Rickey, the President and General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, as they shatter the color barrier in 1947.
We caught up with Bryan Harnetiaux to discuss the play, his passion for the game baseball, and why the theater is such a good place to tackle challenging topics.
SI: What originally drew you to Jackie Robinson’s story? Are you a baseball fan?
Around the time of the 50th anniversary of the breaking of the color line in Major League Baseball, in 1997, I read a wonderful biography about Jackie Robinson and was stunned at how little I knew about his journey, despite being a lawyer who did some civil rights work, a playwright with a bent towards exploring social justice issues, and an inveterate baseball fan.
SI: What made you decide to return to this play?
I’m not sure this play ever left me. For some time I’ve been very aware that 2022 was the 75th anniversary of this iconic event, and of the continuing relevance of this story , particularly in light of recent developments and the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement .
SI: How do you feel that the world and baseball have changed in the past 25 years? What makes it relevant to today’s world?
Fundamentally baseball has remained the same and continues to hold a predominant place in our national landscape, but necessarily it has made, and continues to make, adjustments in order to keep up with the velocity of modern life and remain competitive in the ever- expanding market for the entertainment dollar.**
SI: What makes the theatre a good medium to explore an issue like race?**
The strength of theatre is in the intimacy of the experience, it’s unfiltered nature. The storytelling is at close range, allowing the audience member to explore tough issues like race firsthand, but from the safety of their seat. I also believe good theatre has a great capacity to provoke change.
SI: Why should someone who doesn’t care about baseball see this play?
It’s a compelling story about the dawn of the civil rights movement in this country, brought to life by a dedicated and talented local theatre company that’s been part of this community for 75 years.
SI: Can you give a quick synopsis of the play?
This is a historical drama about how two men, one black and one white – Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey – worked together to overcome the overwhelmingly racist culture in major league baseball in 1947. In the telling, the audience is challenged to examine and assess the very soul of this nation.
SI: What would you like theatre-goers to take away from this production?
A better understanding of the journey of one of our national heroes, Jackie Robinson, a truly extraordinary person, and of the heavy price he paid for being a pathfinder.
SI: Favorite ballpark food?
Hot dog, of course. Several!!
SI: Favorite baseball player other than Jackie Robinson?
A tie – Duke Snider and Willie Mays
SI: Anything else you would like to say about the play?
I’ve written a lot of plays. This is the one I felt compelled to write, and that I hope resonates long after I’m gone.
Help us SELL OUT Spokane Civic Theatre!
The Spokane Indians Front Office and OTTO the Mascot (if he’s not too busy) will be at Civic on Thursday, April 20th for the 7:30 pm. performance and would love for you to join us! Tickets are only $10 for students/$25 for adults and are available now at SpokaneCivicTheatre.com.
ABOUT NATIONAL PASTIME
In 1997, 50 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color line in Major League Baseball, Spokane Civic Theatre Playwright-in-Residence, Bryan Harnetiaux, was working on a new play for Civic’s 1997 – 1998 Studio Theatre Season. In the midst of this work, he picked up Arnold Rampersad’s Jackie Robinson: A Biography. This book “grabbed him by the throat.” As a playwright, lawyer and life-long baseball fan, he was stunned at how little he really knew about the story leading up to this iconic event in American history.
With the blessing of then-executive director Jack Phillips, Bryan abandoned the current play-in-progress and began intensive research to determine whether Jackie Robinson’s epic journey could be brought to life on the stage. What he discovered was a compelling need to tell the story of how this seismic shift in American culture came about.
The play National Pastime — which is more about race than baseball — premiered in the Studio Theatre on April 18, 1998, and recounted how Jackie Robinson, together with Branch Rickey, the white President and General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, overcame the intransigent racist culture of major league baseball, this country’s “national pastime.”
In celebration of Spokane Civic Theatre’s 75th Season, National Pastime plays April 14 – 23 on the Main Stage. The play is rated PG-13 for strong language and themes.
ABOUT THE SPOKANE INDIANS
The Spokane Indians are the High-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies located in Spokane, Washington, and were named 2021 MiLB Organization of the Year. Avista Stadium is home to the MultiCare Kids Bench Seat. Parking at all Spokane Indians games is FREE.
Read the full article here.
Photo: Young Kwak / Inlander