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'Nobody Don't Like Yogi' gives fans plenty to love

Well, it's true, just as the title says, nobody don't like Yogi. And nobody don't like Ben Gazzara, neither. But, if we can wax Yogic for a moment, that don't mean nobody don't like ''Nobody Don't Like Yogi."

On the simplest level, there's nothing not to like. Playwright Tom Lysaght stitches together vintage malapropisms from Yogi Berra, along with a few profundities of his own, to give us a glimpse of Berra on the day he returned to Yankee Stadium after 14 years away, ending a feud with owner George Steinbrenner. This Yogi is a Yankee that even a Red Sox fan can love. And ''Yogi" gives us 90 minutes in the company of a beloved baseball icon, played by a beloved theater icon, with plenty of laughs and more than a few wistful smiles. It's sweet, sentimental fun, and fans -- yes, Sox fans too -- will have a swell time. Especially if they don't go expecting a swell play.

As a one-man show, ''Nobody Don't Like Yogi" falls into some of the traps of the form: the re-created conversations with invisible characters, the pauses with nothing to fill them but one actor's presence, the faint but persistent question of just why this person is standing on a stage talking to the air. In a well-crafted solo turn, the awkwardnesses melt away, and we enter wholeheartedly into the character's vividly imagined world. In less skillful hands, though, the one-way chats start to sound like phone calls on a soap opera, and you can feel the transitions from narrative to drama creaking. Unfortunately, that's what tends to happen here.

None of this is Gazzara's fault. Indeed, it's a deep pleasure to watch this gifted actor inhabit a character whose humility, generosity, and warmth seem as genuine as they are touching. The halting walk, the self-deprecating shrug, the reflective smile -- Gazzara deploys them all with skill to give us the Yogi we know, and to suggest the inner Yogi that the real man rarely lets us see. The only mystery about his performance is why it's miked. The amplification distracts, both by broadcasting loud rustles when Gazzara moves and by making us wonder why so distinguished a stage performer would need any help filling the Wilbur with his voice. Other aspects of Tony Melfa's sound design -- the muffled roar of the crowd, the click of spikes in the hallway outside the clubhouse where Yogi ruminates -- are generally effective, except when they occasionally drown out a line.

Tony Walton's set gracefully evokes the clubhouse, but a projected image of the stadium itself intrudes oddly sometimes; Ken Billington's lights effectively mark transitions between past and present. And Paul Linke's low-key direction, along with Gazzara's beautifully understated line readings, similarly smooths many awkwardnesses and overwrought moments in the script. All in all, as Yogi might say, if this is the kind of thing you like, it's the kind of thing you'll like.

Louise Kennedy can be reached at

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