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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

silent.

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

JON SPARKS/SPE­CIAL TO THE Com­mer­cial AP­PEAL

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