An interview with the playwright by Caroline Michele Uy
Keep your eye on the ball—that’s what they say, and what playwright Lydia R. Diamond is so good at doing. Whether entirely fictional or based in historical reality, Diamond’s work is characterized by its laser-focused, human-centered dramas and rich details. While her plays always explore issues of race, class and gender, they retain a deeply personal perspective, turning the specific into something universal. Toni Stone, now receiving its Chicago debut, is no exception, exploring the world and politics of early 20th century baseball through the eyes of its first professional female player. Diamond, who received her Goodman debut in 2002 with the world-premiere of her award-winning piece, The Gift Horse, returns now to her home base to play ball in the new year.
Caroline Michele Uy: Baseball is historically one of America’s favorite pastimes—do you have a history with or love for the sport?
LYDIA DIAMOND: I played baseball through grade school and into junior high. And I was pretty good. A pitcher. However, I don’t have the sports gene…that gene that causes lovers of a sports to live for it and cry when their team loses. What I fell in love with was Toni Stone. I did a lot of research, about Toni, the Negro leagues, and the game. I definitely developed a deeper respect for the game. Though, I think I still don’t have the passion of a sports fanatic, I definitely understand now how and why one would fall in love with the sport.
CMU: You’ve worked with Ron previously on a production of your play, Stick Fly in 2020. Can you talk a little bit about your collaborative relationship so far?
LD: Ron and I have been friends and colleagues for over twenty years. We were founding members of a wonderful theatre company called Onyx Theatre Ensemble in the late 90s. Strangely, it took years for us to finally work together on a project that I’d written. I feel that Ron’s aesthetic is wonderful. So many times I’ve gone to productions of his, of plays that I had previously thought I didn’t love… and then I’d see his production. He would bring something to the play that both elevated it and spoke to what it is really meant to be. I enjoy watching Ron work with actors and collaborate designers. This has been a fun process.
CMU: What was your impetus for working on this piece? What was your way in?
LD: I was approached by the original director, Pam MacKinnon, and producer, Samantha Barrie. Initially, I actually turned it down because I’m a slow writer. But after reading Martha Ackmann’s Curveball, The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone, which at the time was the definitive biography, I felt that I had an obligation to tell her story. It didn’t make sense that I had never heard of her. That was my way in. A commitment to telling her story.
CMU: One thing I’ve loved in your discussion of the piece is distinguishing that Toni was not only the first Black woman to play full-time professional baseball, but the first woman, full-stop. Can you talk a bit about the importance of that distinction to you?
LD: I do make sure that when I talk about Toni Stone I say, “Toni Stone was the first woman to play professional baseball, and she played in the Negro Leagues.” It’s an important distinction for me for two reasons. First, the Negro Leagues were professional baseball, and I think people need that reminder, and Toni Stone was the first woman to play with those men. Ever. How amazing.
Caroline Michele Uy is the Literary/Dramaturgy Apprentice for Goodman Theatre.