The boys of summer are taking the stage at Mouse River Players' Arlene Theater this weekend for a couple of timely stories set in America's national pastime.
First up is a play by Edward Nunez-Vaz titled "Roger Maris on Stage."
The play, co-directed by Holly Eidsness and Nancy Pearson, tells the little-heard saga of the breaking of a 34-year record for most home runs in a single season by Maris, who hadn't even been born when this record was achieved by the great Babe Ruth. Born in Hibbing, Minn., Maris grew up in Grand Forks and Fargo.
Terry J. Aman/MDN - - Josh Snyder takes on the title role in “Roger Maris on Stage.”
Submitted Photo - - Presenting the monologues in “Rounding Third and Heading for Home” are “The Boys”: BACK ROW, from left: Ken Haarstad, David Bradley and Ryan Haider, and FRONT ROW, from left: Thomas Burke, Terry J. Aman and Alex Schoenberg-Carton. Not pictured: Joe Koppinger.
"It's history come to life through the sport," Pearson said. "It has meaning to everyone, based on the struggles of Maris. The times were similar to today, with a hostile press and what we now call paparazzi constantly hounding him."
Ruth was the Homerun King, the Sultan of Swat, holder of a record that was thought to be unbreakable. The Mouse River Players are less than a week off the actual date of that accomplishment 50 years ago of Oct. 1, 1961.
The play centers on two crucial years, 1960 and 1961, reproducing the costumes of the famed New York Yankees with the assistance by phone of Bobby Richardson, a former Yankee who played alongside Maris. Costumer Kelly Thom exchanged several calls with this friend of her father, Bill Kolb, who was also a professional ballplayer, and she consulted with Richardson on such aspects as to how the uniforms were worn to the width of ties at the time.
The doors open at 7 p.m. at The Arlene Oct. 6-8, with hot dogs and root beer available through the Minot Exchange Club until the show begins at 7:30 p.m., and then again at intermission. On Oct. 9 the doors open at 1:30 p.m. for the 2 p.m. show, with the same refreshments for lunch.
Tickets are $10 each. This is the first show of the regular season, and season tickets will be available for purchase. Reservations can be made by calling (866) 667-1977.
Josh Snyder, a Minot State University student who is onstage for the first time with the Mouse River Players, plays Maris, while his brother, Bud, is portrayed by Steve Graner. Although many fans were unhappy with the attempt by Maris, two who were behind him are played by Alex Schoenberg-Carton and Thomas Burke. Some of the actors represent entire classes of people, such as Joe Koppinger as sportscasters and Terry J. Aman as reporters. Some representative individuals appear, including Ken Haarstad as a minor league coach, Yankees owner Frank Topping, played by David Bradley, Tim Knickerbocker as commissioner Ford Frick and Danny Knickerbocker as "New York Guy."
"The play has been done previously as a two-person show," Pearson said. "We received special permission from the author to have multiple actors on stage."
Several parts are voiced only, using the talents of Derek VanDyke, Larry Eidsness, David Thom, Perry Olson and the only female in the lineup, Abigail Carson as a young fan.
"It has audience appeal for those who remember when it happened, also for those who are just learning about it now, and also to young people because it's new and interesting, comparing 50 years ago with how it is today," Pearson said. "The press was extremely mean, New York fans booed Maris, and Ruth's widow was unhappy. He lost his hair and broke out in a rash over it."
Following an intermission, several of the same players take the field in the second play of the evening, "Rounding Third and Heading for Home" written and directed by local author Ryan Haider.
"It was my graduate thesis play at (the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks)," he said. "A play in nine innings with nine characters. They're all based partly on people I know and feelings I've felt using baseball as the metaphor.
"The core theme is that the moment is more important than the outcome," he said.
One example he gave is when the runner is sliding home with the ball coming in from the outfield, it's the excitement and drama of that moment, rather than whether the runner is safe or out that's truly memorable.
Each character delivers a monologue as a member of the team, using a play that demonstrated that moment in his life, like the player who tries to connect with his father during a certain moment in his career.
Haider himself played a lot of Legion baseball in high school and considered making it his livelihood, he said, but the theater called him too strongly.