would have to be perfect for 2½ hours. So I decided I would do my own take, but I do use a few of his habits. He plays with his pinky ring and cuff links and strokes his hair.”
The play, by Mike Bartlett, is written in verse and iambic pentameter, which France jokes, “is tricky to get right — all the words are in the wrong place.” That, he says, is resolved with rehearsing the words and the rhythm. But the lines also add complexity. “Sometimes it’s difficult to discern from the verse the emotional level until you’ve been through it six or eight times,” he says. It’s veteran director Dave Landis who has been invaluable in working that out, France says.
It’s thanks to the Unified Professional Theatre Auditions that France won the role. UPTA, held annually at Playhouse, is a national job fair that brings together professional actors and companies that want to hire them. “I have auditioned at UPTA for the last 10 out of 11 years,” France says, “and met Jackie Nichols (POTS executive producer), Michael Detroit (associate producer) and Courtney Oliver (director of auditions and special events). We’ve talked about plays that might be done, but things never jelled.” But last year he got a call from Nichols, who wanted to talk to him about playing the future king. They talked, France read, and Nichols offered him the job.
France was born in Scotland and has been an American citizen since 1974. He studied the theater in the UK, but went into his father’s business of operating hotels.
A few years ago, he was CEO of a hotel company and “had a big fight with the chairman of the board and got fired,” he says. “Then I did consulting, and I hated it. My wife said, ‘Jim, you’re the most miserable SOB I’ve ever met. Why don’t you do what you want to do?’ She is the one that has supported me.”
He started to follow his delayed dream in 2003 and has been on stage, in films, commercials and voice-overs ever since. emmanuel mckinney (from left) as Joe louis, Johnathon Williams as Paul robeson, ron Gephart as Branch rickey, mario Hoyle as Clancy Hope, Courtney Williams robertson as Jackie robinson and Frank W. Johnson as Bill ‘Bojangles’ robinson in Hattiloo Theatre’s production of “mr. rickey Calls a meeting.”
Changing the game
If “King Charles III” looks at an imagined historical future, Hattiloo Theatre is presenting a play of an imagined event of the past.
In “Mr. Rickey Calls a Meeting,” playwright Edward Schmidt looks at events surrounding how Jackie Robinson became Major League Baseball’s first black ballplayer. Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, was determined to bring up Robinson from the minors and integrate the sport. He knew there would be a strong reaction and wanted to enlist the help of prominent African-americans to bolster support.
The play supposes a meeting with Rickey, Robinson, singer/actor Paul Robeson, heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis and tap dance star Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.
“Rickey expected their cooperation to stave off riots, protests and demonstrations,” says director Dennis Whitehead Darling. “But there were a couple of things he had to do. He has to make sure Jackie is willing to continue to be nonresistant and not speak out for three more years. Then he has to secure the agreement of these three men to publicly support this.”
Darling says that for Rickey, it’s trying to finagle the result and use his business savvy to make this happen. For Robinson the ballplayer, it’s the struggle of a man who is outspoken, proud of his race and accomplishments, but having to remain
It gets especially tense when Robeson speaks up. By 1947, he had been an activist for the latter half of his career and experienced racism. “He had much more success abroad, but during his travels, he experienced different cultures and value systems and particularly when visiting the Soviet Union, where he experienced socialism,” Darling says. “He stood for civil rights, so Rickey knew the challenge was convincing Robeson. Robeson’s argument is why not promote all AfricanAmerican ballplayers — why pick just one? And why not compensate the Negro League baseball owners for the people they poached? Because surely he could see the writing on the wall that in a short time, there would be no Negro League and many people would be out of work and out of their livelihood.”
Darling had his actors research their characters to understand more fully where each was coming from. “As a collaborative director, I always invite the actors to participate fully in sharing their thoughts on where the characters are. It’s wonderful to watch people grow and watch actors share their talent and knowledge of the craft.”
Sept. 23-Oct. 16 at Hattiloo Theatre, 37 S. Cooper St. Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays; 2 p.m. Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays. Tickets: $28; $24 senior/student. Saturday matinees: $22; $18 senior/student. Info: hattiloo.org and 901-525-0009. “Beauty and the Beast”: Disney musical. 8 p.m. FridaySaturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Theatre memphis (lohrey Stage), 630 Perkins ext. $30 ($15 students), $25 senior citizens age 62 and above and military personnel. 901-682-8323. theatrememphis.org “King Charles III”: After a lifetime of waiting, Britain’s Prince Charles ascends the throne. now the question becomes, “How to rule?” 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays, through Oct. 9 at Playhouse on the Square, 66 S. Cooper. $40 ($25 senior citizens), $20 students/military, $10 children ages 17 and under. 901-726-4656. playhouseonthesquare.org “Mr. Rickey Calls a Meeting”: In 1947, Branch rickey, Brooklyn Dodgers general manager, summons Joe louis, Bill “Bojangles” robinson, Paul robeson. 7:30 p.m. Friday; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday; 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Other shows: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 30; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Oct. 1; 3 p.m. Oct. 2; 7:30 p.m. Oct. 6-7; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Oct. 8; 3 p.m. Oct. 9; 7:30 p.m. Oct. 13-14; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Oct. 15; 3 p.m. Oct. 16. Tickets: $22/$29. Hattiloo Theatre, 37 S. Cooper. 901-525-0009. hattiloo.org “The Odd Couple”: neil Simon’s play about two mismatched roommates. 8 p.m. Friday-saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Germantown Community Theatre, 3037 Forest Hill-irene, Germantown. $12-$24. 901-453-7447. gctcomeplay.org Monty Python’s “Spamalot”: musical comedy. 7 p.m. Fridays-saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays, through Oct. 2 at Harrell Performing Arts Theatre, 440 W. Powell road, Collierville. $15/$20. 901-457-2780. “To Kill a Mockingbird”: Presented by Tennessee Shakespeare Company. Preview show ($16) at 7 p.m. Friday. Other shows 7 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, 7 p.m. Thursday. Also, 7 p.m. Sept. 30 and Oct. 1. Final show 2 p.m. Oct. 2 at Hutchison School (Wiener Theater), 1740 ridgeway. $34; $26 senior citizens age 62-older, $16 students age 18-older. 901-7590604. tnshakespeare.org