Jed Reynolds Stars in Jackie Robinson's Story at the Fremont Centre Theatre
The Fremont Centre Theatre, run by James (Abe, DOOL) and Lissa Reynolds, is a fantastic find. For anyone who has friends that have dragged them to really bad theatre, and let’s face it in L.A that’s probably everyone, this was a breath of fresh air.
The play I saw was National Pastime, written by Bryan Harnetiaux. According to director James Reynolds, this play was chosen because “We just think it is the essential American story. It’s a story that had to be told and it’s a story that we felt we could tell.” (A goal they most certainly achieved!) “I’m constantly filled with pride about this show for a lot of reasons, but we’re representing a man who was chosen for a moment to change the direction of this nation, [to] make it a better country and make it honor it’s principles.”
National Pastime chronicles the life of Jackie Robinson, played by Jed Reynolds (James’ son), as well as Branch Rickey, President of the Dodgers, and the man who helped change baseball forever.
The play opens with two narrators, Wendell Smith and Red Barber. Their narration helps fill in the gaps between scenes, which often covers many years. Red Barber is a white, Dodger radio broadcaster who narrates Robinson’s story during the first act. The other narrator, Wendell Smith, is a black sports writer who chronicles the life of Branch Rickey, President of the Dodgers. We watch as Rickey becomes the driving force behind integrating baseball. The common thread that ties these two stories together is racism.
The prejudice Jackie Robinson faced was driven home in one particular scene. When Branch offers Jackie the chance to join the Dodgers’ organization, he has to make sure Robinson can handle the pressure. Branch begins shouting racial slurs at Jackie, calling him names, and telling him he’s not aloud to room or eat with the rest of the team. Jackie’s reaction is understandably hostile, but Branch tells him in order to be the man chosen for this monumental undertaking, he has to control his anger and remain silent through it all. Which Jackie does with great restraint.
Director James Reynolds marveled at Robinson’s ability to remain calm under pressure. “This was the first real major, public step on the road to civil rights. And not only did he perform under this extraordinary pressure…he did it exceptionally well. This was people just beating, raining all sorts of horrendous things down upon him and he still performed to the highest degree.”
Overall, there wasn’t a weak performance in the production. Therefore, the best scenes were when everyone was on stage together. I particularly enjoyed the change of narrators in the second act, to Rickey’s and Jackie’s wives. It’s an interesting turn of events as we are given a glimpse into how the women handled the pressure, and helped their husbands deal with it themselves. In addition, the scenes with the characters of Wendell Smith and Red Barber were particularly riveting. They added humor, wisdom and a sense of authenticity.
And of course, the recent college graduate, Jed Reynolds, did a fantastic job. He convincingly portrayed Robinson’s anger, frustration and reluctant acceptance of his role in history. But being apart of this production was a little intimidating to him at first. Jed felt like he was “in way over my head!” However, he quickly hit his stride and performed exceptionally well. A fact his father will attest to, “I couldn’t have been more pleased.”
When asked if he felt portraying such an icon was a daunting task, Jed responded, “ More than just the acting of it, it’s the pressure of doing this man justice and making sure you don’t foul up such a great legacy and such a wonderful person. Especially when [Jackie Robinson] has family members that are living in Pasadena and are here constantly.”
Family members who have given the Reynolds their stamp of approval. According to James, they’ve seen the show many times and “are so supportive of the play”. A fact that clearly pleases him. “They’ve come to the play and they’ve been touched because they are seeing their lives unfold before them. That just fills us with so much pride, that we’ve been able to touch them in that way and be able to carry their story.”
As far as working together, the father and son team seemed to have no problems. As Jed said, “It’s been great! I mean he’s probably the only director I’ve ever had where I can call him at two in the morning and ask him questions. We can talk about it and don’t have to worry about hurting each other’s feelings and be really open and honest.”
Jed has even visited his dad in Salem! He appeared in an episode of Days of Our Lives last fall, and will also air again sometime in June. Keep your eye out for one of the co-pilots who helps rescue Phillip. “We’re trying to get him to the hospital in time. He’s got some grievous injuries so we’ll see how it turns out.” Of course as we all know, in daytime there are no guarantees!
As for James, he did share a few insights into what we can expect this summer from his alter ego. “Abe’s a little different then he’s been in awhile. He’s trying to deal with this idea of being sightless and trying to find his way back after being captive for some time…and the fact that he is sightless is sort of a metaphor for his feeling his way around the world, as it’s new to him now, and trying to find his way back.” And for the Fremont Centre Theatre, James is still mulling over scripts to produce when National Pastime ends it run.
Until that time, I highly encourage everyone who enjoys good theatre, to see this play. You can also show your support by donating in a variety of ways. One way to do this is to purchase your very own seat! You might even be lucky enough to get the seat next to Josh Taylor’s (Roman, DAYS), Alison Sweeny’s (Sami, DAYS), or even Mary Beth Evans’ (Sierra, ATWT; ex Kayla, DAYS)! Other ways to help support the Fremont are by registering with the grocery store, Ralph's, or the Ebay auction company, I Sold It! They will donate proceeds of your sales, and items sold to the theatre. For more information call 626.441.5977.
Here's what LA is saying about National Pastime:
“Beautifully staged and directed with spine chilling personal vision, by James Reynolds, his passionate involvement inspired flawless performances from his entire large cast. A powerful and historical slice of life, chunk of history, this is a stunning production in every theatrical aspect!” – Tolucan Times
“Director James Reynolds exercises expert care. A trenchant pulse fuels ‘National Pastime’ in its California premiere at the Fremont Centre Theatre.” – Los Angeles Times
“Helmer James Reynolds manages to guide a superb ensemble.” – Daily Variety
“Director James Reynolds adds strength and sensitivity, making this a play you will long remember. The play, beautifully written by Bryan Harnetiaux and directed by James Reynolds, brings together a cast of fifteen well-polished, highly motivated actors to tell the moving story of the first black player to crash into major league baseball.” – Showmag.com
“Director James Reynolds not only gets the best from his actors – he sets up scenes where three separate groups are on stage at the same time. In the parlance of a game where percentages make or break players, this performance definitely hits .999.” – Reviewplays.com
But perhaps Soapdom's Lori Wilson says it best: "I highly encourage everyone who enjoys good theatre, to see this play."
You can catch National Pastime until July 3rd , at The Fremont Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave in South Pasadena, CA. Don’t miss it!
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