By ROBERT KOEHLER
SPECIAL TO THE TIMES
Thursday, December 21, 1995
The thing about baseball is that it's always been a sport on the edge of
collapse, revived to some unprecedented glory, then brought back to earth by jerks, and
then revived again. It's cyclical, with booms and busts, like the country. If Daryl
Strawberry and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf are part of the bust, then Cal Ripken and
Christy Mathewson are part of the boom.
Remember this past season, when nearly everybody had had it with baseball's player-owner warfare, and Ripken came along, broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive games streak, and ran around the edge of the stands at Baltimore's Camden Yards to shake every fan's hand?
That was Christy Mathewson, only some 80 years earlier. He was so moral that he obeyed his mother and never pitched on Sunday during his entire career with the New York Giants. He wasn't too moral, but he was just the thing to clean up baseball's image as a sport of drunks and rowdies.
In putting Mathewson on stage in his one-man show at Two Roads Theatre, actor Eddie Frierson has taken the man's own writings and tried to muss up the squeaky-clean image (he smoked, he got angry). But more than anything, Frierson's "Matty," under the direction of Kerrigan Mahan, tries to get us up to speed on one of the game's earlier, obscure greats.
Fortunately, Frierson (obviously a fan and student of all things Mathewson) doesn't use his one-man show as a vehicle for justifying this gifted pitcher's immortality; he doesn't swamp us with stats like some fantasy-league geek. (Some of those stats are amazing, though, like winning 37 games in a season and pitching three World Series shutouts in one week.)
Instead, this Mathewson is a man aware that he's been anointed by the baseball gods, not very comfortable with his sainthood, and very disturbed by the fools and bad men around him. In other words, there is some drama here, not just a nice little educational portrait.
Watching Mathewson nearly break down while describing the deaths of four fans in a mob scene during a game that should never have been played, or getting angry at fellow players going corrupt and gambling on their own games, is a way for us to reflect on history--and the present.
Frierson's assembly of anecdotes, biographical notes and passages are
workmanlike, and in
"MATTY" Frierson manages to get us to consider whether or not baseball (and the United States) hasn't been through worse before, and gotten past it.
Control-freak owners, flawed umpires, vicious press, criminal player
behavior--the early 1900s look a lot like the 1990s--but maybe even more vicious. Frierson
lends the bad and the good guys shading, too, by playing them with sometimes brilliant
vocal impersonations--especially Giants manager John McGraw and the double-dealing first
baseman Hal Chase. Though none of us really knows how they sounded, they sound right.
The typical one-person show device of bringing the famous person back from the grave to talk to us has never fully worked for me (suspension of disbelief notwithstanding), and this is the device in "Matty." But Frierson the actor makes him human, full of regrets, modesty and a genuine desire to pass along his experience. His closing act includes fielding some questions from the audience, which takes the performance to astonishing degrees of detail and honesty.
But the best advice, from Matty and Frierson, comes at the end: "Play
* WHAT: "Matty."
* WHERE: Two Roads Theatre, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City.
* WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 7 p.m. Sundays. Runs indefinitely. The show will be dark Dec. 29-30.
* HOW MUCH: $12.50.
* CALL: 766-9381.
PHOTO: Eddie Frierson stars in the one-man show "Matty," about
baseball great Christy Mathewson, at Two Roads Theatre in Studio City. PHOTOGRAPHER: NICK
NEWTON / For The Times
Type of Material: Theater Review