By Juan Haines
In a fictionalized future world, the worst possible global scenario occurs (nuclear annihilation). Robert Mailer Anderson brings three characters on stage, struggling to rationalize their beliefs in individuality and collective humanity.
An unassuming coffeehouse, Café Dante, is the setting for Anderson’s play, The Death of Teddy Ballgame (2016).
This setting works because coffeehouses in America are places where people gather to think about creating “the next big thing” or to meet friends and socialize. They are places for like-minded people, yet at the same time, if desired, patrons can stay in their own little worlds. Regardless of circumstance, coffeehouse patrons feel exceptional.
Since Café Dante is still open after the catastrophe, “with electricity comes responsibility” is a reoccurring statement of authority that is interjected throughout the play.
The authoritative nature of responsibility is revealed through Paul, Café Dante’s cashier. Karl, Marcus and Dean, regular patrons, support two American-based themes.
The first, in spite of the powerful and elite, democracy is rooted in a keen sense of individuality. Subtly interjected is the collective power of voting.
As an example, after a guy named Crimins threatens Paul for his for personal lifestyle choices, the impact of the group is demonstrated when Paul uses his authority to kill Crimins. (Karl and Dean support Paul).
It is noteworthy that Paul kills Crimins right after Marcus commits suicide. Marcus, the 70-something Jewish character, goes upstairs and puts a bullet in his head instead of waiting to face the final days of civilization. Marcus exercises his choice as he sees fit.
Before taking his life, Marcus says, “…making a decision means making a choice, and a choice means we are responsible for who we are. Most people don’t want that responsibility, or the suffering that comes with it,”
The second, more significant theme, is history.
The history teacher, Randy, comes from the African country Mauritania. Only one of the Americans knows anything about Mauritania.
However, Randy, now a cabdriver, knows a lot about baseball. In fact, he and another character debate the accomplishments of Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams to point out important aspects of what Americans do and how they act. As a country, we need to pay attention to people like DiMaggio and Williams.
The other character makes his point about the relevancy of history by noting that soon after Ted Williams retired, there was a shift in sports, from emphasizing the “team concept” to focusing on the “superstar.”
Terry is telling the patrons that drifting too far away from the collective is damaging to the individual.
Despite the dire circumstances in The Death of Teddy Ballgame, people still are willing to work together and bring in new ideas, even when they come from vastly different cultures.
Finally, The Death of Teddy Ballgame reminds readers of the importance of family. When Karl’s daughter calls on the payphone, just the impact of her voice eases the tragedy of misplaced power and ruin.
In the end, the themes —the potential for the survival of capitalism in the wake of destruction, or the choice to move north to Canada for a new beginning—are more than symbolic.