LEWISBURG – “Matty, An Afternoon with Christy Mathewson,” earned a standing ovation from more than 200 viewers Sunday afternoon at the Campus Theatre.
Actor Eddie Frierson wrote and depicted the life and times of Christy Mathewson, an inaugural member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Also a Bucknell University student, Mathewson was known for gentlemanly conduct at a time when ballplayers were inclined to be ruffians.
“Matty” depicted the life of the innovative right-handed pitcher, interspersed with interpretations of baseball figures including John McGraw, New York Giants manager, and Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the professional game’s first commissioner. The two-hour production also covered Mathewson’s suspicions of the integrity of the 1919 World Series, exposure to mustard gas in World War I training and the fight with tuberculosis which took his life.
Frierson and “Matty” had a run in New York in the 1990s, drawing impressive reviews from theater critics and attention from sports journalists including Roy Firestone, Bob Costas and Christoper “Mad Dog” Russo. The show has been performed at various times since, most recently in January at a benefit in Santa Clarita, Calif.
To prepare for “Matty,” Frierson said he took an audio version of the show and played it at a sped-up rate to refresh his memory of the stage blocking and the many phases of Mathewson’s life. Frierson’s acting credits have included numerous television appearances and commercial voice-overs.
Frierson, a Los Angeles area resident, also mentally ran through lines while running on a treadmill. Visualization with eyes closed was helpful.
“It’s quite a sensation running with your eyes closed, because you can’t do it because you are going to run into a wall,” he said. “But on a treadmill you can.”
Recent Southern California wildfires interrupted Frierson’s at-home rehearsal. He was halfway through the story of the New York Giant mascot, an integral part of “Matty,” when the skies got as dark as a solar eclipse.
“I opened up the window and it was like a shelf of smoke,” he said. “It was 20 miles away, but all the smoke had blown (closer).”
Despite talk to the contrary, Sunday’s show was not the last time “Matty” would be staged.
“I enjoy introducing people to this guy,” he said. “I don’t care if they ever know my name, much less remember it. But they remember Christy Mathewson and that’s really what it is about.”
The genesis of the writing began 35 years ago with a visit to Lewisburg and unexpected introduction to people who provided valuable information. They included the late Doris Dysinger and local Mathewson expert Betty Cook.
Charlie Vascellaro, a freelance baseball journalist and historian, attended the show thanks to a series of unlikely events starting with leaving a note with a phone number on Mathewson’s grave in Lewisburg Cemetery. The note on a business card was picked up by Joe Keller of Lewisburg who replied via email.
Cook’s cousin Jack Fisher then alerted Vascellaro to the “Matty” production.
“I was well aware of the one-man show because it was 30 years old, but I had never seen it,” he said. “If Jack had not called me I don’t think I would have found this.”
Vascellaro planned to interview Cook about her trips to Cooperstown and the National Baseball Hall of Fame. She accompanied Mathewson’s widow, Jane Stoughton of Lewisburg, on many of them.
A reception followed the performance, a benefit for the Lewisburg Downtown Partnership and the Union County Veteran’s 4th of July Parade Committee.
Mayor Judy Wagner proclaimed Cook the “First Lady of Lewisburg” for her stewardship of the Mathewson legacy, preservation efforts in Lewisburg and interest in local history.