While football is America’s most popular sport, baseball is where we go to address our demons. Under a Baseball Sky is a case in point. Set in 2016 in a gentrifying immigrant neighborhood, the play is a touching, occasionally humorous, exploration of Mexican immigrants and their descendants.
Teo (Diego Josef) is a “troubled” youth who the court has asked to clean up a junked-up lot. Elí (Laura Crotte), the heartbeat of the neighborhood, lives adjacent to the lot and has problems of her own. Both of her children, Paloma and Santiago, died tragically years before. After decades of uncertainty, Paloma’s remains were only recently discovered, reigniting troubling memories.
Rounding out the story, Chava (Joseph Morales) is a counselor and cliché machine who is overseeing Teo’s cleanup and trying to help grouchy Elí manage her many concerns. Not surprisingly, Teo and Elí find each other.
The play is two parts ghost story, with Paloma (Ana Nicolle Chavez) and Santiago (Cesar J. Rosado) appearing frequently, and one part history lesson. There are speeches about the Mexican Revolution, union busting, ICE, neighborhood character and, of course, baseball.
These diverse polemics, and other foibles, lend the play a certain imprecision. Mexican immigrants continue to face major, seemingly intractable, problems. However, the play’s laundry list approach brings up harrowing subjects without delivering the impact they deserve.
There’s a similar issue with the facts of the story. One of the running jokes is that nobody really knows Elí’s age. However, she came to the U.S., as an adult, during the Mexican Revolution, which would put her way north of 100. Is it magical realism or just bad math?
Morales and Crotte deliver terrific performances: he as a local leader who wants better for his community; she as a wounded human who can still find joy in the smallest things. Their relationship is the most touching part of the story. The trashed lot where most of the action takes place is beautifully rendered, evoking both decay and longed-for redemption.
Under a Baseball Sky is a brave attempt to navigate the complex relationships between immigrants and the American reality, but it needs a bit more heft. Ultimately, the story seems like an outline for a larger, more ambitious play.