If you like local stage productions, African-American history, women’s equality or baseball, then “Toni Stone” is a must-see and this weekend is your last opportunity.
Toni Stone was a fiery, energetic, self-assured young black girl who focused on having a major league baseball career, long before a federal civil rights bill, integration, or women’s rights or liberation movements had passed or taken hold across the American landscape as we know them today. “Toni Stone” broke that barrier in 1946 when she signed and played with the San Francisco Sea Lions of the West Coast Negro Baseball League.
Charlotte’s Three Bones Production is telling her captivating story at The Arts Factory on West Trade Street near Johnson C. Smith University. This weekend ends its three-week run. The director is Charlotte’s legendary Dr. Corliss Hayes, who has established a high-profile professional resume of local theatre productions over an almost 30-year run.
“Toni Stone” was born in Bluefield, West Virginia, in 1921 and died of heart failure at age 75 in Alameda, California. Signing as a full-time player for the Indianapolis Clowns made her the first woman to play in the popular but now long dismantled Negro Baseball League, the black version of then-segregated Major League Baseball. She was a skilled infielder with a respected batting average that often exceeded those of some of her male teammates.
“Toni Stone’s story is a significant part of our history that perhaps most of us, let alone a vast majority of society in general have not heard,” says Hayes, the director. “Toni was a powerful example and lesson in courage, about possibility and survival in an exclusively black male sport,” adding “they are universal themes that we can all relate to,” she concludes.
For several cast members and the consultant she brought in to help advise them on presenting accurate baseball mannerisms and other tips, this was their first stage production of any kind. And they have been nothing short of superb, authentic and awesome in their final stage presentation,” Hayes proudly quips.
And that runs from the lead all the way through our baseball advisor and now-retired Charlotte-Mecklenburg teacher, coach and former college and semi-pro baseball star, Londell McClary.
“Coach knew how to connect with the cast and taught them how to bond as a baseball team would do. His work was priceless, even making them run laps when one of them missed a ball or made an error in their production training and rehearsals. It all showed effectiveness in their final stage presence,” Hayes beams with pride.
But, the breathtaking star of the show is Greenville, South Carolina, native Nasha Shandri, who previously spent 20 years in the Atlanta theatre and arts community before her family made their move to Charlotte in 2012 with her husband’s job transfer. Their two teenage children 17 and 14 are also in the arts. Their 14-year-old son is in the drama club at North Mecklenburg High while their 17-year-old daughter plays saxophone at Northwest School of The Arts.
“I knew of Dr. Hayes’ sterling professional arts reputation, and I have always wanted to work with her. I got that opportunity through making various connections in our local arts community,” the lead character explains.
Nasha’s stage presence as “Toni” is a mirror image of her natural character and her childhood nickname, “Motor Mouth.” She made her acting debut as a young child without a speaking part in “The Nutcracker,” playing the role of a Sugar Plum Fairy. Her first speaking part was as a fourth grader and she, “Motor Mouth,” says she forgot her line. But never again after that.
“I am a determined person,” Nasha says. “Whatever I set my sights on, I go for it, no matter what,” she proclaims sternly and then flashes a soft smile.
This is the last chance to see the three-week run of this spectacular local theatre production. It re-opens Thursday, September 1 ends Saturday, September 3. Show times are 8 pm. For more information about tickets, go online to www.threebonetheatre.com.