The eminent sage Lawrence Peter Berra famously remarked that “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” But Yogi, as he is more familiarly known, was talking baseball and not theater, where many a show is over long before it’s over. This, unfortunately, is the case with the one-man show “Matty, an Evening With Christy Mathewson.” Author-performer Eddie Frierson tries earnestly to share his enthusiasm for the pre-World War I baseball legend, but Mathewson, despite having invented the screwball, comes off as one very dull straight arrow: His only wild-and-crazy confession is a love for practical jokes “as long as no one gets hurt.”
One can understand Frierson’s attraction to his subject. Besides being one of the great pitchers of all time, Mathewson was also a novelist, a writer for Broadway and a performer in vaudeville and on the silent screen. He served in WWI and, toward the end of his career, became a sports-writer for the New York Times, covering the 1919 Black Sox World Series. The man had a life.
But Frierson presents this rich material in a blandly written “How to Succeed in Life by Using the Lessons of Baseball” lecture. It’s as if he imagines his hero as a precursor to basketball coach Pat Riley and similar sports figures who moonlight as motivational speakers, foisting off game strategies as a kind of cure-all snake oil to star-struck suckers. Frierson is working that vein when he has Mathewson explain to the young boys in the audience that from the game of baseball they can learn about “the business game” and “the life game.”
Frierson’s performance is pretty much a match for his text, offering up a broad-gestured combination of sincerity and stuffiness reminiscent of the Al Gore-Dan Quayle debates. Even his impersonations of three dozen or so friends, family members, teammates and umpires tend to mesh into two or three stock characters. He covers his bases, so to speak, by having Mathewson, who’s doing the impersonations, admit to being not much of an actor.
Director Kerrigan Mahan deserves some credit for keeping Frierson moving along from one philosophic self-improvement anecdote to the next. And much credit is due Robert L. Smith for creating both the handsome antique-filled attic setting and the sweeping backdrop panorama of the Polo Grounds, where Mathewson played so many games for the New York Giants.