Attending Off-Broadway productions is a great way to experience live theater without having to pay Broadway prices. It’s also a great way to support Latino actors and writers doing their thing. And you always have a chance to discover a gem, like the show I just saw.
The story begins in Barrio San Anton, Carolina, Puerto Rico where we see a 14-year-old Roberto Clemente playing baseball with his older brother using a guava tree branch as a bat. Modesto Lacen (last seen in Celia and La Barberia) plays Clemente and uses loose-limbed, almost awkward, body movements and an expressive face to help the audience see a fourteen-year-old boy instead of a grown man.
The story is narrated through three points of view; his brother, his friend, and his wife. Clemente’s older brother Matin, portrayed by Josean Ortiz, covers much of his younger years; we see Clemente go from the Santurce Cangrejos to Montreal, where he describes the white rain as cotton, and on to Pittsburgh.
Manuel Moran, in the role of Ramiro Martinez, narrates many of the baseball season scenes. Martinez was a Cuban journalist who befriended Clemente upon his arrival in Pittsburgh. Moran’s narration allows the audience to see how racism affected Clemente’s early career with the back of the bus seats and third class accommodations the Pirates had for players of color.
Lorraine Velez, of the very talented Velez sisters, plays Vera Zabalo, the woman who would become Clemente’s wife. Their courtship is played out in vignettes and the wedding scene is actual footage displayed on a large screen. Their marriage is shown in scenes with Clemente discussing his dream of opening baseball academies in Puerto Rico and a last poignant argument over his desire to accompany a shipment of donations to Nicaraguan earthquake victims.
The show is a musical and bilingual, there is an instant translation for the Spanish-challenged. While it portrays one of the greatest to ever take the diamond, you don’t have to be a baseball fanatic to enjoy the show. With choreography and musical staging by Luis Salgado, of “In The Heights” fame, the show is a delight to experience.
Produced by the Society of the Educational Arts, Inc (SEA) and Manuel Moran, the show is playing at the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater from February 14th until April 8th. If you want to see OUR stories on the stage, you must come out and support shows like this. You may even be lucky and meet a living legend, like I did. It was an honor to meet Miriam Colon, the Artistic Director and Founder of PRTT.
Fun fact: Upon his arrival in Pittsburgh, Clemente chose the number 21 because his name Roberto Clemente Walker has 21 letters.
Personal note to MLB: Retire #21