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In the Huntington’s ‘Toni Stone,’ a player in a league of her own

Jennifer Mogbock as the title character in "Toni Stone" at the Huntington.T. Charles Erickson

“It’s about the weight,” says Jennifer Mogbock, as the title character in “Toni Stone.” “The weight and the reach.”

That seemingly simple idea provides the frame for playwright and director Lydia R. Diamond’s dramatic retelling of one woman’s passion for the sport of baseball and her determination to compete at a level on par with her talents. In 1953, Stone became the first woman to play in the Negro Leagues (taking a roster spot that became available when Hank Aaron moved up to the majors), playing second base for the Indianapolis Clowns and overcoming formidable barriers of both race and sex. Inspired by “Curveball,” the biography of Stone by Martha Ackmann, Diamond (“Stick Fly,” “Smart People”) makes Stone our narrator and guide, directly addressing the audience as we learn her story from her perspective.

As Stone, Mogbock is a force of nature with expressive reactions and physical prowess, confidently sharing her understanding of the physics of baseball (even if she admits she didn’t know it was physics), her endurance of her mother’s efforts to steer her toward more “ladylike” sports, and her single-minded quest to play ball. Her energy never flags, even as she swings the bat with the full force of her body, reaches up to make catches, and dodges and weaves at boys-only baseball practices to learn from their legendary coach. She also makes this first-person storytelling work, building a relationship with the audience until, by the second act, we connect with her completely, responding to her as if we are part of this conversation.

Jennifer Mogbock in "Toni Stone," written and directed by Lydia R. Diamond.T. Charles Erickson

Mogbock also delivers a woman who is by turns proud and self-deprecating. She is immensely confident of her ballplaying abilities and she has an encyclopedic knowledge about the game of baseball, while also blithely missing social cues and obsessively reviewing the stats on her baseball cards whenever the world overwhelms her. The term neurodivergent might not have been in the lexicon in the ‘50s, but Diamond’s willingness to explore Stone’s complexity makes her more recognizable, reminding us that superpowers are not limited to flying or X-ray vision.


Stone recounts memories of her childhood, meeting her husband in a bar, and “barnstorming” all over by bus to play baseball. But she is most at home on the diamond, and Collette Pollard’s set, complete with bleachers, a scoreboard, and billboard ads, brings us right onto the field with her.

Diamond also directs her ensemble with nuances that go much deeper than the clever staging of the team on the bus, or the suggested plays on the baseball field. A moment of hurt and vulnerability is illustrated by a woman unpinning underwear from a clothesline. A threatened sexual assault is made even more terrifying when Stone and her aggressor sit close together on a bench, without ever facing each other.

Although every member of this flawless ensemble initially appears in a baseball uniform, the actors also play other characters, including Stone’s husband, Aurelious Alberga (Jonathan Kitt); Millie, a sex worker who tries to teach Stone the advantages of femininity (Stanley Andrew Jackson); team owner Syd Pollock (Blake Morris); and coach Gabby Street (Omar Robinson). Watch how these Black actors transform into white characters with a simple wave of a hand over their faces and the announcement, “He’s white”; at other times they play white racists in the stands, with their heads down under their hats. The images are powerful without being heavy-handed.


Bobby Cius and Jennifer Mogbock in "Toni Stone."T. Charles Erickson

Diamond’s skill with dialogue also provides a sense of camaraderie among the team — even if that doesn’t always extend to Stone. It also reveals the uneasy way these men wear the “characters” they must play for the amusement of the ballpark crowds. These professional athletes must not only be skilled at the game, they must also reflect the team’s name, the Clowns. But, as Stone tells us, there’s an art to making a skill pretty, which has a power of its own.

Choreographer Ebony Williams provides a connective tissue of movement through the baseball scenes and then creates complicated production numbers when the team performs their minstrel-meets-vaudeville routines. These numbers — with original music by Lucas Clopton — are jaw-droppingly good, including juggling, gymnastics, balancing acts, and challenging dance lifts and flips, all performed full-on by this talented cast.

The choice to craft “Toni Stone” as a memory play demands patience as Diamond overloads the first act with exposition, including a drawn-out explanation of the rules of baseball. But by the second act, Mogbock has so enchanted us, we are ready to follow her anywhere. Too bad Diamond leaves us with a couple of final scenes that are confusing and contradictory. There’s no need to wrap things up neatly, but I wish she had followed Stone’s advice to “feel the game, find the rhythm, let the bat tell you.”



Written and directed by Lydia R. Diamond. Inspired by “Curveball: The Remarkable True Story of Toni Stone” by Martha Ackmann. Presented by the Huntington, in an arrangement with Concord Theatricals on behalf of Samuel French. At the Huntington Theatre, 264 Huntington Ave. Through June 16. huntingtontheatre.org

Terry Byrne can be reached at trbyrne818@gmail.com.