Sunday, January 10, 2010

Nobody Don't Like Yogi

Yogi-isms flow forth at Actors’ Summit

Yogi Berra, the subject of ‘NOBODY DON’T LIKE YOGI,’ now in production at Actors’ Summit, is a baseball legend. But, he may be best know for his “Yogi-isms.” He is responsible for numerous American English malapropisms. Classics include: "This is like deja vu all over again," ""You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you're going, because you might not get there." "If you come to a fork in the road, take it." And, the logically illogical, "It was impossible to get a conversation going; everybody was talking too much."

‘NOBODY DON’T LIKE YOGI’ is Tom Lysaght’s tribute to Berra , a Hall of Fame catcher and World Series manager, who was known as a warm and fuzzy guy devoted to his family and baseball. He is also noted as one of the few people who stood up to legendary tyrant, George Steinbrenner, renowned owner of the New York Yankees.

Steinbrenner was born in 1930 in Rocky River. His father, Henry Steinbrenner, owned a Great Lakes shipping company, which George operated for many years. His years of success as owner of the Yankees was balanced by his twice being suspended by baseball for legal and ethical violations. His run-in with Berra, which resulted in Yogi’s firing, centered on Steinbrenner questioning not only Berra’s managerial choices, but making accusations against his son.

The play is set on the afternoon of the Old Timer's Game in 1999, when Yogi returned to Yankee Stadium after staying away for 14 years, since vowing never to return after Steinbrenner fired him. Berra, concerned about his lack of education and public speaking abilities, centering on his belief that “I’m not inwardly outgoing," wanders the manager’s office and locker room telling stories about baseball, the players, and his own life. (His narration is backed up by slides of the people about whom he is speaking.)

The play reaches its logical climax as Yogi gives a heartfelt speech to a sold out Yankee Stadium. But, then, Lysaght decides that, as Yogi might say, “The end is not the end if you don’t stop when the end ends at the end.” The writer tacks on another fifteen minutes of repeating himself, drawing a moral to a story that has already moralized. The night I saw the show, the audience became restless during the tacked-on segment.

The New York production starred Ben Gazzara. Reviews reveal that Gazzara showed an inner strength of a man who, while deferential, was unyielding.

It is ironic that the guy of misplaced words is being portrayed locally by George Roth, a Yale graduate who was a two-time Jeopardy champ. Though maybe a little too intellectual, Roth’s characterization has a clear focus. It may surprise many who have never heard Berra speak that he did not have a New York accent. Born in St. Louis, his articulation was Midwestern, with a slight Italian intonation. Roth’s task is daunting. He holds sway for almost two hours, alone on stage, speaking line after line. As the woman in front of me asked at the end of the show, “How can any person remember all those lines?” I guess a Yale and Central School of Speech and Drama in London graduate can, and make sense of them.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Though a little overly long and a bit languidly paced, ‘NOBODY DON’T LIKE YOGI’ is well worth seeing. It’s fun and interesting. The story is an eye opener, the acting excellent, and it’s nice to think about baseball’s opening day being only three-and –a- half months away.