Toni Stone Review – A Home Run

Toni holds a baseball up in the air triumphantly
(L-R) Tracey N. Bonner in Lydia R. Diamond original play Toni Stone
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Even as a non-sports fan, I have a soft spot for baseball stories. I adored Amazon Prime’s recent reboot of A League of Their Own, and I will admit that the show was on my mind when I attended Toni Stone at the Goodman Theatre. Inspired by the true story of the title character, the play follows the life of the first woman to play in the Negro Leagues. Weaving together different periods of Toni’s life as told through her charming narration, Toni Stone is a delight.

The team strikes silly poses
(Top L-R) Terence Sims and Tracey N. Bonner; (Middle L-R) Edgar Miguel Sanchez, Travis A. Knight, Kai A. Ealy and Victor Musoni; (Bottom) Matty Robinson in Lydia R. Diamond’s original play Toni Stone

Toni talks about baseball the way some people talk about religion: as a sacred, and even essential, thing. Her love of the game permeates every aspect of the play, and it’s impossible not to root for her, especially considering the charismatic and nuanced performance of Tracey N. Bonner as Toni. The story is told in a non-linear fashion; characters appear and disappear as Toni thinks of them, and parts of her past emerge not in chronological order, but as they become relevant. The feeling is that the audience has been allowed inside Toni’s head to hear pieces of her life story as they occur to her. This lends a certain verisimilitude to the narration and makes Toni all the more endearing as other characters help her get back on track after she goes on tangents.

Toni grins out at the audience
Tracy N. Bonner in Lydia R. Diamond’s original play Toni Stone

An unfortunate side effect of a “first woman” story is that the majority of characters surrounding the lead are necessarily men. This is remedied somewhat by the presence of Toni’s friend Millie, a woman of the night played with a perfectly balanced dry humor by Jon Hudson Odom. In addition, the many men who are present are a lot of fun. Bookish Spec was a personal favorite, played with authenticity and verve by Edgar Miguel Sanchez. Kai Ealy is both hilarious and moving as King Tut, a player whose performative antics conceal darker truths about the perception of Black people by white Americans. And Chiké Johnson offers a mix of lightness and seriousness as Toni’s love interest Alberga. Overall, the acting is strong and the ensemble well-cast.

Millie holds out her hand to Toni in introduction
Tracey N. Bonner and Edgar Miguel Sanchez in Lydia R. Diamond’s original play Toni Stone

Technically, the show is impressive. A partial baseball diamond onstage hints at a unit set, but moving pieces allow the creation of multiple locales, including the bar where Toni and Alberga meet and the bus the team takes to travel between games. Baseballs appear from various parts of the stage to be picked up or caught by players, always pleasantly unexpected and smoothly executed. Sound design by Andre Pluess goes far toward creating the illusion of a real game of baseball being played, complete with the crack of the ball hitting the bat or the thump of it reaching a catcher’s glove. Simple but elegant costuming choices, like the dressing gown that Millie wears or the hat and jacket Toni dons when she’s at the bar, create easy distinctions between characters and situations. 

The team sitting in the dugout
Travis A. Knight, Terence Sims, Kai A. Ealy, Victor Musoni and Joseph Aaron Johnson in Lydia R. Diamond’s original play Toni Stone

Toni Stone is an excellent illustration of how history can come to life onstage in all its messy, ugly, and glorious truth. With a skilled group of actors, clean design, and impressive direction by Henri Watkins, Toni Stone is not to be missed.

Toni and Spec sit in the dugout looking contemplative
(L-R) Tracey N. Bonner and Edgar Miguel Sanchez in Lydia R. Diamond’s original play Toni Stone

Ticket Information

Dates: January 28 – February 26, 2023

Location: Goodman’s Albert Theatre, 170 N Dearborn Street

Tickets: $25-$80, available at the Goodman’s website or by phone at 312-443-3800


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