“The Pitch” Paints the Corners in World Premiere at Majestic Theatre in West Springfield
The Majestic Theatre is producing a world premiere of Pioneer Valley newspaperman Stan Freeman’s first play “The Pitch” and there is much for the hometown crowd to cheer about. Danny Eaton, the producing director of Majestic Theatre and the director of this evening’s performance has always welcomed world premieres to his stage, many of them his own plays and in fact, my attraction to Majestic started with his play “Iris” and I’ve been returning ever since to this jewel of central Massachusetts. His audiences show up early, pack the café dining on sandwiches and coffee pre-show and follow his schedule religiously, filling enough houses to justify 6 week runs whether the evening’s story is one of his own plays, someone else’s regional or world premiere, modern classics like “Streetcar” or “Amadeus” or small musicals like “9 to 5” which closes their current season starting 4/16.
“The Pitch” is about a young harried newspaperman, Mike Resnick(Julian Findlay) who works for the New Haven Record and reads an obituary written by retired sportswriter Roger Pennell (John Haag) about a high school classmate of his, Vernon Peters (R. Steve Pierce) whose Major League baseball career lasted exactly one pitch. To paraphrase the opening line of the obit he had a career that lasted not seasons but seconds. Vernon Peters was called up from Syracuse by the Yankees and threw his weakest pitch a curve ball (his “curve had less bend to it than an interstate through Iowa.”) to Carl Yastrzemski who hit it for a single, driving in a run. He was pulled from the game and never made it back to the majors. Mike, who is just about to turn 30, thinks this is a terrific idea for a book with the Freytag plot outline from his creative writing class built into the young pitcher’s life. High point: signing with the Yankees. Low point: the pitch.
Roger Pennell living alone in his walk-up apartment resists the offer to become the young man’s editor vigorously but the pitch also refers to Mike’s drive and ambition and he eventually gets Roger to sign on, even if he won’t let his name be in anyway associated with the book. There is a terrific tug of war about the meaning of a life between the two writers who see it from their different perspectives. Mike, who can see the turning points in Vernon’s life so clearly and Roger, who seems to grant a lot more ambiguity to the cause and effect of specific moments. The play teases these two perspectives and the men behind them throughout the evening and you are left with a nicely twisting tale of fate and baseball that has enough surprises and humor to keep you engaged throughout. It gives both our protagonists a rather harsh action each in the last couple of scenes in the play and you have a hard time feeling good about either of them or what has transpired when the play is done.
Julian Findlay does a great job as the young grasping biographer and has a most affecting monologue about the map he saw his life taking and his frustration with it being out of reach. You watch this guy and really want him to find a stronger moral compass, his missteps become painfully personal like a friend who has transgressed. He and John Haag as Roger have an easy rapport and it’s great fun to watch them play together. Haag owns the night and we are thoroughly delighted visiting his apartment and hearing his stories, so comfortable is he in this role and onstage. It is a gift to spend time in this actor’s assured comfort playing this role. Also, in the cast are R. Steve Pierce as the momentary Yankee who brings a lived-in depth to the pitcher and Katie Sloan who plays Pauline easily at different ages and fulfills her minimal requirements splendidly.
As always at the Majestic the physical production is all that you could ask for and this down on your heels story is rather modest with sets by Greg Trochlil, costumes by Dawn McKay and lighting by Daniel D. Rist. The play by play Announcer is Dennis Lee.
Once again, Danny Eaton has made the hour and a half drive from Albany worthwhile with this serious play with many laughs by Stan Freeman about a life well-lived and the actions and decisions that go into that.
Pitch 1: Julian Findlay, John Haag
Pitch 2: Katie Sloan, R. Steve Pierce foreground, John Haag background
Photo by Kait Rankins