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NEW YORK TIMES REVIEW
September 9, 1996

Matty

Eddie Frierson as Christy Mathewson

Eddie Frierson (pictured) plays legendary baseball great Christy Mathewson

By WILBORN HAMPTON

NEW YORK -- Remember when baseball was just a game? When sports idols did not spend the off-season in rehab or completing their community service? Was there ever such a time?

For the nostalgic, Eddie Frierson is offering a visit to a bygone era of baseball with "Matty," an appealing one-man show about Christy Mathewson, the clean-cut boy next door who was one of the game's greatest pitchers.

For Frierson, who wrote and performs the solo piece, "Matty" is clearly a labor of love for the legendary New York Giants star. By the time he pitched his last game, in 1916, Mathewson had won 373 games, had struck out 2,499 batters and had posted three straight seasons with more than 30 wins.

He briefly managed the Cincinnati Reds and then served in France in World War I, where he was the victim of a gas attack. He died of tuberculosis in 1925 and was one of the first players elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame when it was established in 1936.

Frierson deftly mixes his pitches, combining the biographical curves of Mathewson's life with change-up anecdotes about baseball's early days and fast-ball observations on umpires, sportswriters and life in general (the latter accompanied by homespun advice for Little Leaguers).

Mathewson's off-the-diamond activities are not ignored either. The pitcher appeared in a movie, a Broadway show and a vaudeville revue and wrote a series of books for youngsters. And if you thought sports celebrity endorsements began with breakfast cereals, Mathewson was the official spokesman for Tuxedo pipe tobacco.

"There is an art to making whole lies out of half-truths," Mathewson observes with a boyish grin.

The Christy Mathewson one meets through Frierson is an "aw, shucks" kind of guy who gets over life's hurdles, even the suicide of his kid brother, on the strength of sports platitudes. But he is charming company and tells a good tale. The best parts of the show are the reminiscences.

Frierson single-handedly re-enacts the 1908 playoff game between the Giants and the Chicago Cubs that turned into a riot at the Polo Grounds; a shaggy-dog account of Charlie Faust's sojourn as the Giants' good-luck charm for several seasons is amusing, and Mathewson's role in uncovering the 1919 Chicago Black Sox scandal is a footnote to baseball history.

Kerrigan Mahan has directed Frierson in a polished performance that takes place on Robert Smith's garage sale of a set, packed with enough trophies, vintage baseball caps and photos of veteran players to start a Cooperstown annex. One doesn't have to be a baseball buff to enjoy this pleasant evening of memorabilia!

PRODUCTION NOTES:

Matty: an Evening With Christy Mathewson. Based on the life and writings of Christy Mathewson; written and performed by Eddie Frierson; directed by Kerrigan Mahan; costumes by Suzan Kay Frierson; lighting by Lawrence Oberman; set by Robert Smith; stage manager, Tiffany Yelton. Presented by Black Bags Three Productions in association with Edmund Gaynes and the Mathewson Foundation. At the Lamb's, Downstairs, 130 West 44th St., New York.

 

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