Historyonics Theatre Company hits a homer with Larry Roberson's Breaking the Line: The Jackie Robinson Story, the debut show in the Missouri History Museum's new Des Lee Auditorium. There's plenty of backstory on Robinson personally, as well as the circumstances that led up to his being the first black player in major-league ball. Author Roberson has researched his subject's early childhood and Army days, showing how Robinson (Harry Waters Jr.) possessed just the qualities Brooklyn Dodgers manager Branch Rickey (Christopher Limber) needed for his "social experiment" -- which everyone now knows was the search for a black player to integrate the team, a man who needed the "guts not to fight back."
Robinson had early experience with integration, having spent a childhood in virtually white Pasadena during the Depression. From there, he became a star athlete and lettered in four sports at UCLA before leaving for the Army. In the Army, he becomes morale officer for his battalion and soon argues for equal chairs in the PX for his men. Pointing out that bullets flying across the field wouldn't discriminate between soldiers, Robinson wins his case but soon realizes he is fighting two wars, one with a "foreign enemy," the other "prejudice at home." Meanwhile, his counterpart/sponsor/guardian angel/goad, Rickey, is doing what he can to integrate the stands at his baseball fields but soon realizes that equality needs to extend onto the field.
Author Roberson has written a brisk and entertaining show, part chamber theater (the actors work from scripts) and part musicale (Alerica Lee Anderson doubles as pianist and actor), that combines historical information (about the Negro Leagues and Robinson's firsthand experience with racism) with genuine dramatic moments. Waters and Limber have terrific chemistry as Robinson and Rickey -- each makes the other nobler, yet appealingly human. As Rachel Robinson, Cintia Sutton gets some juicy moments, particularly preceding Robinson's appearance at tryouts. As the newlyweds are unceremoniously ushered off a plane and then into seats on the bus headed south, despite her humiliation she reminds Robinson that his mission is actually their mission. Gregory Carr and Anderson also do a great deal with cameos, and writer Roberson takes the least sympathetic parts -- playing the men who fought Rickey and ridiculed Robinson. And even if you know nothing about baseball (which seems unlikely in this diamond-crazed town), Breaking the Line shows it's definitely more than a game.
Breaking the Line continues through March 5.