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Paulanne Simmons

"Lombardi" Makes a Touchdown


LOMBARDI -- Bill Dawes, Chris Sullivan, Robert Christopher Riley, Dan Lauria, Judith Light, and Keith Nobbs, photo by Joan Marcus

Directed by Thomas Kail
Circle in the Square Theatre
50th Street, West of Broadway
From 9/23/10; opens 10/21/10
Tues. at 7 p.m., Wed. thru Sat. 8 p.m., Wed., Sat. & Sun. at 3 p.m.
Tickets: $115-$125 (212) 239-6200
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons

I must confess I have little interest in football and less in Vince Lombardi. Yet I found Eric Simonson's play about the legendary coach engaging, entertaining, funny and sad. In other words perfect theater.

Based on When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi, by David Maraniss, the play presents Lombardi as a tragic and heroic figure, a man possessed by demons that make him a success on the football field and, in many ways, a failure in life.

Thomas Kail's direction gives the play great emotional intensity and at the same time doesn't ignore that Lombardi's life, as all our lives, was filled with irony. With the help of David Korins' set and Howell Binkley's lighting design, Kail also makes effective use of Circle in the Square's circular stage.

Dan Lauria gives a nuanced portrayal of Lombardi. There's plenty of yelling, but also moments of quiet self-reflection. There's also pain, both physical and mental, especially concerning Lombardi's estranged son, a phantom who haunts the stage without ever being present.

Lauria never fumbles, yet Judith Light constantly steals the ball as Marie, Lombardi's long-suffering wife. Light's deadpan humor disguises but never completely hides her great humanity, which holds both the players and her family in a loving embrace. Marie sees and understands all aspects of her complicated husband. She knows what he will do even before he does, and she's not afraid to tell him.

The play covers the brief period of time in November 1965 when Lombardi was leading the Green bay Packers to victory, but there are also flashbacks to 1958, 1959 and 1964. The story is told through the eyes of Michael McCormick (Keith Nobbs), a rookie reporter who has been sent to Wisconsin to write a favorable article on Lombardi.

The device of a narrator allows the audience to see Lombardi through the eyes of a young man who starts out worshipping a football hero and ends up seeing the man behind the image. This is a journey one suspects most people who knew Lombardi may have taken. Except perhaps the men who played on his teams.

Dave Robinson (Robert Christopher Riley), Paul Hornung (Bill Dawes) and Jim Taylor (Chris Sullivan) are all players who nurse physical ailments and emotional problems. They both fear and adore Lombardi, who can praise and condemn with the same enthusiasm. But there is never much indication that they ever wonder or care about who this man really is. Perhaps that's all in the game.

"Lombardi" gives its hero a stature, and the sport a significance that makes even people who are not sports fans take notice. It holds surprises for people who know nothing about the man as well as those who thought they knew just about everything.


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