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Arts & Entertainment

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 The Newark Star-Ledger

September 5, 1996

A Review

by Michael Sommers


One-Man ‘MATTY’ Comes Through In The Clinch

NEW YORK — The first big baseball fan in my family was a great-great aunt whose apartment in the Bronx overlooked the old Polo Grounds. Back around 1903, so it’s said, she nearly ruined her marriage by spending too many hours out on the fire escape, cheering like crazy for that gentlemanly New York Giants idol Christy Mathewson.

"The Prince of the Polo Grounds," as Mathewson was called, was a college educated all-American farm boy whose presence changed the game of baseball. At the turn of the century, Mathewson’s sunny good sportsmanship helped to transform pro baseball from a bunch of brawlers into proud national heroes.

Though no mollycoddle, Mathewson promised his Baptist mother that he’d never play ball on Sundays — and never did. Such clean-cut charms drew ladies to the ball park for the first time. A legendary pitcher (373 career victories), his sporting ways endeared him to millions of fans during the 1900-16 era.

He was a good guy. "Always throw your best pitch in the pinch," was typical of the uplifting advice that Mathewson spread through a popular series of juvenile books he authored during the height of his fame. At one point Mathewson was so well known that a letter addressed simply to "Big 6" (another nickname) managed to arrive at his winter home in California.

Mathewson served overseas in the Great War, managed the Cincinnati Reds, and was later president of the Boston Braves before his death of tuberculosis in 1925 at age 45. He even took a turn on the vaudeville stage in the off season.

You’ll learn this about the legend — and more — in "MATTY: AN EVENING WITH CHRISTY MATHEWSON," a new one-man show written and performed by Eddie Frierson.

"MATTY," is a warm and genuinely affectionate tribute to a great ball player that’s sure to please anyone who truly loves the game. Wonderful yarns about baseball during its rowdy early days and colorful anecdotes about Mathewson’s fellow stars of the diamond make for an entertaining two hours even if you are not a baseball fan.

Expect no high-tech presentations: This Off-Broadway show is performed in modest circumstances. There’s little flash but boy, there’s plenty of heart.

Frierson, who once played baseball for UCLA, resembles Mathewson and performs the show in a direct, affable manner that certainly suits his hero’s friendly personality. Frierson doesn’t appear to be acting so much as channeling Mathewson’s spirit. This easygoing authenticity is strong enough to override the sometimes where-are-we? limbo of his anecdotal script. Robert Smith’s nice set places Mathewson in an attic cluttered with 1900s memorabilia that’s backed by a simple mural of the Polo Grounds.

Unlike my ancestress, I’m not a huge fan of the game, but some of the stories that Mathewson, excuse me, Frierson tells are fascinating. There’s the tragic results of an infamous replayed game in 1908 — a quarter of a million people tried to get into the park — caused by the enforcement of Rule 59, which led to several deaths including the suicide of the President of the National League.

You’ll hear the hilarious saga of hapless Charley Faust, the "jinx killer." Experience up close the strategic roaring style of Giants manager John J. McGraw. And listen to Mathewson’s dark recall of Hal Chase, the sleazy first baseman who took a leading part in the Black So scandal of 1919. Sometimes Frierson (as Mathewson) impersonates these other legends to tell their stories better.

Through it all, Frierson’s low-keyed invocation of Mathewson sticks to the guy’s unpretentious true-blue ways both as a sportsman and as a gent. Under director Kerrigan Mahan’s guidance, Frierson winningly offers up an authentic champion who was a little embarrassed by his fame. Some of the showboats who play the game now might take a lesson or two from Christy Mathewson.


WHAT: "Matty: An Evening With Christy Mathewson"

WHEN: Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 8 p.m.; Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2 p.m.; Sunday at 3 p.m.

WHERE: Lambs Theatre, 130 W. 44th St., Manhattan

HOW MUCH: Tickets are $30. Call (212) 239-6200

This article was originally printed in 1996 during MATTY's run Off-Broadway.  The above performance times and phone number are for historical reference only and are no longer accurate for purchasing tickets.  MATTY closed at the Lambs on December 1, 1996.