Mixed Blood Theatre explores immigration and identity at the ballpark (literally)

Christopher Rivas plays Victor Castillo, a Dominican pitcher
Christopher Rivas plays Victor Castillo, a Dominican pitcher for the San Diego Padres, in Mixed Blood Theatre's new play "Safe at Home."
Rich Ryan | Mixed Blood Theatre

Theater collides with sports and politics this week as Mixed Blood Theatre uses the St. Paul Saints' CHS Field as a playhouse.

"Safe at Home" examines immigration and identity in a show that has audience members traveling around the ballpark to watch different scenes.

It's at a time of high drama, according to Mixed Blood's artistic director, Jack Reuler, who explained the premise of "Safe at Home." It's the seventh game of the World Series, and Dominican pitcher Victor Castillo is due to take the mound for the San Diego Padres against the Texas Rangers.

"So in the first scene, this journalist plants the seed that the pitcher might protest immigration policy, or just might just protest by not pitching once he gets out on the mound," Reuler said.

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Playwrights Alex Levy and Gabriel Greene met in grammar school. "We've been friends for 35 years," Greene said. "Always into theater, always into baseball."

They are also into politics. A few years ago, Levy said, they were talking about immigration and how some of the highest-paid Hispanics in the United States are immigrant baseball players.

Playwrights Alex Levy and Gabriel Greene
Playwrights Alex Levy and Gabriel Greene have been friends for 35 years, bonding over their love of both baseball and theater.
Euan Kerr | MPR News

"And we started to talk about what that status meant, and how the national story of baseball intersected with the national story of America," Levy said. "And from that we sort of came up with this idea of, 'What if one of those individuals used his fame and power to try to change the world, and what would happen if he did so?'"

Levy said that the idea of doing a play in a ballpark is more than just a gimmick. When 60,000 people jam into a stadium, he said, you can find the stories of America.

"From the business leaders and the team owner to the laborers who are vending and grounds crew, to the ballplayers who are coming from around the world, to the fans who can put together $25 and leave their lives for a minute."

And that's why audience members will move around CHS Stadium to see the play's nine scenes. They'll go in groups of up to 25, with a new group starting every 10 minutes. Reuler, who is directing the play, said they'll visit places not usually open to fans.

"So we go to the kitchen, where the vendors are, and we go to the press box, where the manager is holding a press conference," he said.

They go to a luxury suite where a presidential candidate who has just flip-flopped on immigration policy is making a campaign appearance. There's a trip to the batting cage and a visit with the team mascots. There's even a scene in the men's room, where two business associates meet up.

One of them, Barry, thought he was making a smart business move. His boss, a hardcore Padres fan, has bought out an entire suite at $5,000 a seat. He's then offered his top sales staff two tickets. Barry invites Mike, who could be the source of lucrative contracts in the future. Then Mike turns up not only wearing a Texas shirt, but Lone Star face paint too.

Actors Michael Lee, left, and Ansa Akyea read through a scene.
Actors Michael Lee, left, and Ansa Akyea read through a scene in the Mixed Blood rehearsal room. There are 18 actors spread over 9 scenes in "Safe At Home."
Euan Kerr | MPR News

"Mike you can't wear that," Barry says.

''Why not?"

"Why not? Because you are in San Diego, not Arlington."

"Exactly! Enemy territory!"

Mike's having fun, but Barry worries about getting fired.

Levy hopes "Safe at Home" will spark conversations about individual identity.

"And how we define ourselves, and how that is ever changing," he said "And we are defined by who we are with and the circumstances we are in at times too."

Not every ballclub would jump at the chance to host "Safe at Home," but St. Paul Saints Executive Vice President Tom Whaley said it's a perfect fit for his organization. The Saints agreed to do the show a year ago, not knowing that immigration was going to be such a hot topic.

"That's really where it's really fun for us, because the ballgames are about that, too. It's about creating conversation," he said, "and this play should do that."

Even though the play is across town from Mixed Blood's home stage, the company is offering its radical hospitality program at CHS. A portion of the tickets for each performance are available at no cost for people who line up on a first-come, first-served basis. The other half are available for purchase at the box office.