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Entertainment & Arts

Review: A pleasant ‘Cooperstown,’ but questions stand out

Junior (Cecil Burroughs), an employee at Jimmy's, and Grace Fletcher (Ann Hu), the owner's wife, have a lot of back story to divulge in Brian Golden's "Cooperstown," at the Road on Magnolia.
(Deverill Weekes)

Jackie Robinson never appears in Brian Golden’s “Cooperstown,” currently enjoying its West Coast premiere at the Road Theatre Company’s shiny new second stage, but the very idea of him is enough to catalyze powerful changes for the characters of this pleasant if underbaked drama.

It’s July 1962 (well after the setting of the recent biopic “42"); Robinson is about to make history as the first black player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.; and the employees of a local diner called Jimmy’s (a jewel of a set by Desma Murphy) are in for a weekend of intense exposition.

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There are many questions to hash out: Why Junior (solid, low-key Cecil Burroughs), the black man who runs the place for its absentee white owner in the hope of being named manager, mysteriously resists the chance to host the inductees’ Sunday luncheon and have his photo taken with Robinson. Why the owner’s pampered but lonely wife (charming Ann Hu) keeps dropping by to talk him into it. What has driven Junior’s surly younger sister, Sharree (Jamye Grant), to join a black resistance group. Whether a romantic heart secretly beats inside Dylan (Alexa Shoemaker), a baseball-stat-quoting waitress puzzled by the advances of Huck (T.J. McNeill), a wide-eyed tourist.

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Despite the long monologues that hold the action hostage in the second act, some questions remain. If fans are flooding into town for the induction, why does only one eat at Jimmy’s? Was there really a significant black power movement in Cooperstown in 1962? Since the luncheon is imminent, shouldn’t the characters be getting ready for it instead of standing around revealing their back stories?

Director Darryl Johnson seems to hope we’ll sail over these logical gaps on the power of catharsis alone, but we could use a little more help from Golden. Robinson may be destined to be a metaphor forever, but another draft or two could help these promising characters escape a similar fate.

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“Cooperstown.” The Road on Magnolia, 10747 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends July 20. $34. (866) 506-1248 or www.roadtheatre.org. Running time: 2 hours.

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