I’ll give Mitch Albom this: The guy has no shame whatsoever, and a nearly Oprah-perfect common touch. Another writer, tasked with a play about a beloved baseball announcer, might have searched for a little chiaroscuro, a few shadows, something, anything to give all that lovin’ a little dimension. Not Mitch. For “Ernie,” his tribute to Detroit’s late and beloved Ernie Harwell, he will have no truck with shadows, nor shades of gray, nor anything that might taint the rosy picture so many Detroiters have of their late hero. The worst thing “Ernie” says about Ernie is that he worked very hard, and his beloved wife Lulu had to spend a lot of nights alone.
And so it was that my friend Dustin and I took in this dose of Albom, something I never thought I’d do. But I park in the garage attached to the theater, and when the posters went up for this annual cash-extraction exercise for sentimental Tigers fans, conveniently scheduled on game days, now in its four year, I had a change of heart.
“Dustin,” I said. “It’s time for us to see ‘Ernie.’”
“OK,” he said.
I was hoping he’d put up more of a fight. But I bought the tickets.
The play, like Mitch’s books, seems a bare minimum of effort (85 minutes; you get the idea it was kept short to eliminate the need for embarrassing bathroom breaks by its elderly audience). It’s set on a nearly-bare stage, with two characters – Ernie and “the boy.” The boy wears knickers, knee socks, high shoes and a newsboy’s cap. I think of him as the personification of the author’s belief that everything was better in the world when times were simpler and boys wore knickers. He’s played by TJ Corbett, with lots of jazz-handsy, run-around-the-stage energy. Ernie is played by Peter Carey with a Georgia accent and an old man’s shuffle that keeps threatening to reveal the younger one beneath.
It’s set in a tunnel at Comerica Park, just offstage, as Ernie prepares to receive an accolade from the organization that employed him for so long. But there’s a rain delay, and the kid in knickers shows up to prompt Ernie through “a broadcast of his life” in “nine innings,” and no, I’m not kidding. So we’re basically talking a monologue, interrupted by the knickers kid, and that’s a heavy lift for an actor, so respect.
Along the way, and this should not surprise you, we learn a lot about the playwright. The phrase “kids today” is repeated more than once. There’s a sneering reference to “Faceplace,” i.e., that website my daughter wouldn’t be caught dead on. The World Series-winning ’68 Tigers “really pulled us all together,” after “the racial strife and riots,” which are given exactly that much attention – five words. There’s reference to fans doing the wave, something I’ve only seen at football games, but what do I know? I’m no sportswriter.
I started jotting down random
platitudes lines: “Never judge a man by what others say about him.” “None of them are texting.” “Believe in yourself; God has a plan for everyone.”
I have a friend who reveres Harwell, and on any given day, he can summon up half a dozen lines of his radio patter, the pitcher who “kicks and delivers,” the batter walked for “excessive window shopping.” The ones that turn up in every nostalgia story are the ones we hear here: “Loooong gone,” and the one about “standing like a house by the side of the road.” Similarly ignored is any mention of how the game changed toward the end of Harwell’s career; while Mark Fidrych gets in there, the story about him having sex with a girl on the pitcher’s mound, needless to say, doesn’t make it. Hey, family audiences. Even his firing, during the Monaghan era, is glossed over.
There’s nothing new here, no particular insight into the man’s character, no message about the human condition you could name, other than here was a really nice man and we all wish he were still alive, so here’s a guy to impersonate him for 85 minutes. It’s theater for the Faceplace age.
So at the end of an hour and a half, what you’re left with is an extended version of the Albom obit that is helpfully included in the program, all sweetness and light and puppies and goo. We were probably the youngest people in the house.
A little bloggage to get us into the weekend? Well, OK:
The director of the Ohio State marching band gets cashiered after an internal investigation showed the place featured only slightly less over-the-top, sexually themed harassment than a strip bar next to an oil field. If your team ever played Ohio State, you’ll want to check this handy songbook and learn what they were singing about your band in the locker room.
Tom & Lorenzo do the important work of summer fashion blogging, i.e., putting together a few snaps of Taylor Swift leaving the gym.
Dahlia! Dahlia! Dahlia takes on the two-hour execution in Arizona this week.
On Wednesday afternoon, in a ritual that has become increasingly—indeed almost numbingly—familiar, the state of Arizona administered a secret drug protocol that took almost two hours to kill a man. Joseph R. Wood III was sentenced to death in 1991 for shooting and killing his ex-girlfriend Debra Dietz and her father, Eugene. The murder was gruesome, and Wood was guilty. He shot his victims in the chest at close range. The only question that remains, as yet another state botches yet another execution, is whether the two hours of gasping and snorting by the accused before he finally died is excessive, or whether it sounds about right to us.
Love me some Dahlia. And now I love me some weekend, and I hope you do, too.