From left: Santoya Fields, JaBen Early and Sean-Maurice Lynch (Ryan Maxwell/Arena Stage)
From left: Santoya Fields, JaBen Early and Sean-Maurice Lynch (Ryan Maxwell/Arena Stage)

Oftentimes Black stories fall through the cracks and become lost in history because some don’t believe they are necessary to be told. Art has become a medium to tell the stories that history books have neglected to tell. “Toni Stone” was a riveting play that navigates race and gender how a trailblazing woman challenges gender norms.

The play by Lydia R. Diamond showed the life of Toni Stone, the pioneer who became the first woman to be in the Negro Baseball Leagues. The play took place at The Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. For its opening night it was a packed theater of people ready to watch live theater after over a year of it being on hold due to the Pandemic.

The play’s use of having the cast play multiple characters was interactive for the audience and gave a sense of comedic relief. It was also interesting the way the main character, Toni Stone, spoke to the audience as if the audience was part of the story itself. Instead of the audience being disconnected from the play, although we were still observers, Toni Stone’s character acknowledged the audience and how the scenes and characters switched which made it more interesting to watch.

Stone’s character explores how the world is puzzled by the way she moves and thrives in it. A woman playing a sport that requires getting dirty and is not graceful was presumed to be an unfit activity. In her story, Stone tries so hard to fit into the culture of the sport but is often questioned about her femininity. Indeed, this is done in sexist manners to belittle her part in the sport and downgrade her humanity but looking deeper into it, it challenges her own views on her femininity.

As Stone constantly struggles to find a balance of gaining the respect of a man as a woman, it begs the question of why women cannot gain the respect as women without placing hyper-masculine characteristics to them to seem respectable. Stone struggles with this idea as well, thinking that showing her emotions, covering herself up and being seen as “just one of the guys” will gain their acceptance of her. Her character develops by being challenged by those around her to question what it means to be seen as a woman and more particularly a Black woman.

Femininity and masculinity are constantly battling as if a person can be just on or the other. Society tries to force Stone’s character to be hyper-feminine and Stone herself tries to embrace being hyper-masculine. While this happens, for most of the first act and part of the second, there was little room to explore the idea of having both characteristics and finding a balance.

Toward the end of the show, Stone learns more about herself and comes to a self-revelation that she can be both and not conform to gender roles.

During the second act, the characters were describing what it was like to play against white teams and put on shows for a white audience. Doing this made them more money and was something that Black athletes and entertainers dealt with in pursuance of their dreams.

The characters then went on to do a dance and put on a show much like ones often seen in minstrel shows. This long scene progressed and intensified and as the music became louder the dancing was heavier. It was metaphoric how they danced, showing that Black people are only consumable to society as a form of entertainment, as an amusement for others. As the scene came to an end and the dancing stopped, the audience watching this play applauded with intensity. Perhaps they missed the point that this scene was not celebratory. It was a double entendre how while putting on this minstrel-like performance, we the audience were watching this scene within a scene.

It was disturbing how the characters carried on and how silent the audience was as observers to then see them clap as the actors finished which ultimately gave more truth to the story the play was telling.

The play was a success and touched on many important topics pertaining to race and gender. Tickets to see “Toni Stone” can be found on the Arena Stage website.

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