PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Bronx Bombers — Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

By Harry Haun
07 Feb 2014

In Act Two, Battiste shows up for dinner as Elston Howard, the first African-American Yankee. His widow, Arlene, attended the Broadway premiere. "I met her at the Off-Broadway opening. When I went up to shake her hand, the first words out of her mouth were: 'You did Elston proud.' When she said that, everything else went by the wayside because you're just trying to pay homage to the man. You try to find their truth and speak their truth within the two hours you have to portray them."

The Berras also made the Off-Broadway opening but skipped the one on Broadway, sending instead their son, Larry, who conveyed his parents' pleasure with the show.

Battiste still remembers the Berras sitting in the front row, drinking it all in. "Oh, man, talk about surreal! We were watching the guy playing Yogi, and there was the real Yogi right behind him. We were in the round, and we couldn't necessarily close ourselves off to a fourth wall. The fact that they were there gave a gravitas to the project in itself, and it just made us want to do our jobs that much better."

Tracy Shayne and Peter Scolari
Photo by Monica Simoes

Peter Scolari is the third Yogi in a row for this particular play, and his wife, Tracy Shayne, plays Carmen. Both actors made a point of getting to the couple they play.

"I fell in love with her right away, and she did with me, too," trilled Shayne. "I guess I shouldn't be so bold as to say that, but she did say, 'Oh, my goodness, you're me 50 years ago.' That's not so true, of course, but she's just a wonderful, vibrant woman."

Scolari does a splendid and thorough job of fielding the many tics, twitches and eccentricities that add up to Yogi Berra, physicalizing the character in a highly creative way. This is the lovable loose-cannon at the heart of the show, and the actor makes him a fairly constant source of fun. And in the coda that ends the play — the closing of the House That Ruth Built — he leaves a poignant last impression.

"It's a little tricky for him to get around," Scolari said of the 88-year-old Berra, "but he doesn't miss a trick. We may make a special accommodation the day he arrives."

Yogi Berra is the second real-live New Yorker that Scolari has brought to Broadway in the past ten months. "Playing Michael Daly in Lucky Guy, I got to meet him and found him gracious, but not forthcoming so I drew him out to the best of my abilities. Of course, your first obligation is to the text — the written word on the page that the playwright supplies for you — not some biographical obligation that you have to Daly as he may be known away from the text. If you can beg, borrow or steal something from the man — and I did — then more power to you."

Writer-director Simonson admitted he had his share of baseball cards growing up, "but they're long lost. I didn't keep 'em." The lore and the knowledge rubbed off and remained, however,and he augmented that by "reading at least 20 biographies." The result is a play that allows him to take rumblings of a festering, but unexpressed, feud between DiMaggio and Mantle — even Gehrig and Ruth — extra innings to dramatic fruition.