Hey, kids — if Superman's stunts had your heart in your throat, try watching an actor swinging a real baseball bat at a real pitch on the small Purple Rose stage. He's supposed to miss, but what if he hits the ball by mistake? Someone in the audience could be leaving the show feet first, and it could be you.

So opens Honus & Me, a play about a boy, a baseball card, and a time-traveling shortstop from the olden days, when players wore baggy pants, Pittsburgh was spelled without an H, and there was a lot more spitting. There's an old bat (heh heh) who says things like "There are two types of people: people who like baseball and people who will like baseball once they stop being idiots." Lessons about baseball history abound, for there really was a Honus Wagner, and the T-206 baseball card that bears his picture really is worth over a million dollars. In Honus & Me that baseball card turns up in the old bat's attic. Now why they don't all just start partying down right there is beyond me, but if they did, there would be no play. Instead, a "teachable moment" ensues, with various adults gasbagging about honor and doing the right thing, and you know that means no one is going to get the million dollars. Oh, just ignore this part. The rest of it is so much fun.

If it were a Disney movie, they'd screw it up by making it too smarmy, but Honus & Me has just the right amount of smarm. Phenomenal is the jiggy, rubber-faced performance of the fully adult Nicaolas J. Smith as a — what? eleven-year-old? Another great performance is turned in by Jim Porterfield as Honus himself, who comes back to life and then whisks young Joey back to the 1909 World Series. Porterfield, whose brutish masculinity can sometimes be overpowering when he plays opposite men and women his own age, is at his best here, portraying a hero who has to rein in his flash and dazzle to be one of the guys.

So how did he get a name like Honus? That's one thing the play doesn't explain, but Wikipedia does: it's short for Johannes. I went on-line as soon as I got home — I had to know whether a baseball card could really be worth a million bucks.

Honus & Me is at the Purple Rose every Wednesday through Sunday, through Saturday, August 26.

[Review published August 2006]