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'Great One' is nostalgia set against Clemente backdrop

| Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, 6:59 p.m.
Tressa Glover stars in Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company's 'The Great One.'
Tressa Glover stars in Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company's 'The Great One.'
Playwright Russ Babines wrote 'The Great One.'
Playwright Russ Babines wrote 'The Great One.'

If you were a baseball fan living in or near Pittsburgh in 1972, New Year's Eve was a landmark moment.

That's the night that Pittsburgh Pirates right-fielder Roberto Clemente died in a plane crash while helping deliver relief supplies to Nicaraguan earthquake victims.

Events from Clemente's life play a pivotal role in “The Great One,” which begins its world premiere run Feb. 21 at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company.

“It's not a Clemente bio,” says Russ Babines, a screenwriter and now playwright who grew up in Shaler and lives in McCandless.

“It's a nostalgic, relatable story that is universal,” Babines says. “It's a coming-of-age, nostalgia piece.”

It's also Babines' debut as a playwright.

“The Great One” began life as a script for a yet-to-be-produced screenplay. While waiting for it to be optioned, Babines decided to adapt it for the stage, performed by a single female.

In September 2013, the Carnegie Screenwriters and the Carnegie Arts Initiative hosted a reading of the 80-minute, intermission-less play with actresses Karen Baum, Adrienne Wehr and Dana Hardy each reading one of the play's three sections.

But Babines conceived the play for a single performer.

“I saw several one-person shows and was amazed at the (performer's) ability to be up there for 80 to 90 minutes,” he says.

That's just how it will be done by the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company production directed by Don DiGiulio.

Tressa Glover will play the sports commentator who returns to her hometown of Pittsburgh to attend the funeral of a childhood friend.

While sifting through her friend's memorabilia, a baseball glove sends her into a flashback to a period in their youth that extends from 1971 — the year the Pirates won the World Series in a seven-game battle against the Baltimore Orioles — to Clemente's death in December 1972.

While it's not about Clemente or the Pirates, they form the backdrop for the play.

It's a tale of family, friendship and redemption, Babines says. “It (should) have broad appeal due to its family-friendly nature and nostalgic elements, which include references to Roberto Clemente and the Pittsburgh Pirates.”

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or

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