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Theater & Dance

Open This Weekend Only, This Immersive Play about Baseball Walks Audiences Through Riders Field

Kitchen Dog Theater is putting on its latest offering, Safe at Home, inside the Frisco RoughRiders’ ballpark.
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The cast of Kitchen Dog Theater's production of "Safe at Home," which is staged inside Riders Field. Jordan Fraker

After the Texas Rangers won the World Series last month, one of the plot points of Safe at Home no longer rang true. Set during Game 7 of the 2024 World Series, the play revolves around a face-off between the San Diego Padres and the Texas Rangers. Until this year, both teams were among the previously six—now five—Major League Baseball franchises that had never taken home a championship ring. As of November 1, the reality of that plot point might have changed, but the heart of the play, which Kitchen Dog Theater opens at Riders Field December 7, remains the same. 

Yes, you read that right. This weekend, and this weekend only, the home of the Frisco RoughRiders becomes the stage for an immersive play about baseball. 

Artistic director Tina Parker knew the company’s 33rd season would pose a particular set of challenges. For five years, the group has been performing at the Trinity River Arts Center, but the lease on that black box theater was up. And while Kitchen Dog does own a new theater space just north of the Design District, it’s not ready yet. The company recently relaunched a capital campaign to raise funds, and managing director Tim Johnson says they hope to begin building renovations by the end of the year. 

In the meantime, they remain itinerant. But this season, they’re making it look fun. First, a play at a ballpark; in February, a play about fitness in a crossfit gym. The third show has yet to be announced. “We were going to be a nomad company no matter what,” Parker says. “So we decided to just lean in for the entire season.”

Up first to bat: the ballpark. Safe at Home came across Parker’s radar earlier this year at the annual meeting of the National New Play Network, a group of theaters dedicated to producing new theater. It was pitched to her by her longtime friend Jack Reuler, who founded and ran Minneapolis’ now-closed Mixed Blood Theatre for 46 years and is directing Kitchen Dog’s production of the show. 

He’s directed this play twice before: First at CHS Field, the Minnesota Twins Triple-A affiliate ballpark, home to the St. Paul Saints. Then, earlier this year he directed a production of Arizona State University students at Diablo Stadium, a Tempe ballpark that is home to the Los Angeles Angels feeder team.

Throughout his career, Reuler has directed numerous plays about sports. So much so that he was featured in Sports Illustrated in the ’80s. He sees the two as complementary forms of entertainment. “Theater is based on conflict that has some sort of resolution that leads you to feel, behave, or think differently about the world in which you live,” Reuler says. “That’s what any sports competition does. You have protagonists and antagonists and you don’t know how it’s going to turn out.” 

Safe at Home was inspired by playwrights Gabriel Greene and Alex Levy’s love of the game. It’s even structured like a baseball game, with nine scenes to mirror the innings. Each scene lasts precisely seven minutes long. The audience moves throughout Riders Field to find actors, who play everyone, including the players, the umpire, the managers, and even the mascots, in various locations for each scene. It’s one of the rare opportunities to go into the dugout and the ballpark clubhouse. 

But the play tells a story that’s bigger than baseball. It explores the political and social complications of protest in sport and the unwieldy issue of immigration in the United States, a topic that has been a key issue in public discourse since Greene and Levy wrote the play in 2016. But there is nothing didactic in the story. Reuler says the play operates as a sort of “whodunit,” in which the stakes are high. This play, he says, is for both theater and baseball enthusiasts—no overlap necessary. Even the cast, which features 18 local actors, is varied in their love of the sport. 

“There are some of these actors who are really diehard Rangers fans and other people who simply know ‘this is a base’ and ‘this a ball,’” Reuler says, although he notes the play is written with a deep knowledge of the sport. “There have been moments in rehearsal when actors who are Rangers fans have gone on 10-minute tirades about how important a certain line in the play is, as it applies to baseball.”

Parker is one of the passionate baseball fans. In our conversation, she reminds me more than once that outfielder Evan Carter was defending the turf at Riders Field earlier this year before his major league debut. “They wrote this play when the Texas Rangers weren’t very good,” Parker says. “It’s kind of wild to think about it now. I mean, Evan Carter was just there, ya know?” 

Dec. 7–10. Performances and ticket information for “Safe at Home” is available at kitchendogtheater.org.

Author

Lauren Smart

Lauren Smart

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