When J. Richey Nash picked up a baseball bat and stepped up to the plate in his indie film “Hitting the Cycle,” he was a natural. He’d already logged several seasons as an minor league outfielder for the Padres, Twins and White Sox. And he’d even done a stint as a pitcher/outfielder for Riccione Delfini, a baseball team in Italy, a job that took him to Venice, Rome and Milan. He hadn’t planned to be an actor.
When he’d attended Princeton University, the Kentucky native says, “I was a psych major, majoring in basketball and baseball.” But when his dreams of major league ball fizzled, he’d headed to San Francisco, interning at a sports marketing company. Then life took an odd turn. Nash found himself sweating and stumbling over words whenever he had to speak before a group. That’s when a friend suggested an acting class.
At first, he admits, it was difficult.
“But there was the moment when I realized it was fun.” Then from out of left field came a opportunity for him to play ball in Italy. Grabbing his glove, off he went. However, when that season ended, he could feel acting waggling its fingers at him. This time he landed in New York, signing up for classes at Circle in the Square Theatre School while bartending to feed his thespian habit.
For seven years, he played roles in Off Off Broadway productions, television shows, commercials, soap operas and indie films. Then another zag — this time to L.A. The whole time he was taking his bows in New York, he had making a film in mind — a baseball movie starring J. Richey Nash.
“I wanted to bring together the two things in my life I’d been passionate about — baseball and the world of entertainment,” he said.
“Hitting the Cycle” would tell the story of an aging baseball player whose career-ending knee injury leads him home to confront his inner demons as he reconciles with his dying father. Nash shopped his script around. But a screenplay with an unfamiliar lead actor’s name attached to it is a difficult sell.
“At some point it became glaringly obvious that if I didn’t play the role soon, I was going to be too old to play it,” he says. “So I decided that I had to start raising money now and take whatever I could raise between here and there.” Investors came and upon reaching his initial fundraising goal, he went for it. They shot the film in his hometown of Lexington, Kentucky.
Nash’s father talked up the owner of a local team and voilà, they had a ball park. Both professional crews and interns worked the production. Then Bruce Dern, a big sports fan, signed on for the role of Nash’s father. Once finished, Nash hit the film festival route, and today “Hitting the Cycle” is on Amazon Prime and other streaming channels.
Meanwhile, the 6-foot-5 actor is back living in New York, performing in and directing theater and occasional films.
“I’m always looking for an interesting project. I don’t have idea of what I’ll do next which is part of the fun and part of the terror.”
Which bring us to Lean Ensemble Theater and its upcoming production of “A Doll’s House, Part 2” by Lucas Hnath. Directed by Blake White, the play features Nash, along with Peggy Trecker White, Jenny Zmarzly and Taylor Harvey. The story is Hnath’s imagined sequel to Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 play where Nora Helmer, hemmed in by her rigid marriage, walks away from her family. Now 15 years later, Nora, who has become a famous novelist, returns to get an official divorce from her husband, Torvald (played by Nash).
Nash and the cast are making discoveries about their characters. Torvald, who’s been “on hold,” living his day-to-day life, is suddenly jarred by his estranged wife’s knock on the door. She now stands before him, forcing him to acknowledge the past and face his own future.
For Nash, Lean’s “A Doll’s House, Part 2” is another opportunity to work with a team and bring it on home.
If you go:
What: Lean Ensemble Theater’s production of “A Doll’s House, Part 2”
When: Jan. 24-26 and Jan. 31-Feb. 2 at 7:30 p.m. Matinees: Jan. 27 and Feb. 3 at 2 p.m.
Where: HHPS Main Street Theatre, 3000 Main St., Hilton Head
Also: Talkbacks following performances.
Tickets: $25 Preview Night (Jan 24); $40 all other performances. $15 students/active military.
Details: www.leanensemble.org or call 843-715-6676