This was a pleasant surprise! I’m not completely ignorant of football – not least because I’ve had friends with a football gear fetish – but I didn’t go in thinking “I just have to know more about legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi.” Happily, playwright Eric Simonson has crafted a smart, solid, modest play about ethics, labor, journalism and strategy that just happens to include enough stats and testosterone to keep your average football fanatic awake for the ride.
We follow fictional Look magazine writer Michael McCormick (Keith Nobbs) as he spends a week in 1965 with Lombardi (Dan Lauria) and his hard-nosed but loving wife Marie (Judith Light) trying to get a sense of the man behind the winning team. This isn’t a play packed with incidents, but, surprisingly, it is packed with ideas, and it’s the conflict of various ideas that drives it: management v. labor, work v. family, loyalty v. personal dignity, winning v. losing and much more. Static it isn’t: in every moment there’s something important at stake.
While Lombardi doesn’t deny the dark side of this man who wasn’t the best husband or father, it doesn’t delve into it terribly deeply either. This is, after all, the first Broadway show to include the NFL among its list of producers, and “brilliant if flawed” is probably about as dark as that franchise wants to go where one of it’s greatest figures is concerned.
Lauria is magnificent in the lead role, letting us see Lombardi’s deep, sincere affection for both the game and his players. Light is equally marvelous as a woman who isn’t thrilled with being a “sports widow” but nonetheless loves her man enough to realize that his happiness depends on the game and not on her.
Attractive young out actor Nobbs is in full “tough little guy” mode here – it’s something he does very well (I just like him better when he’s being goofy and loose, which he does equally well). Director Thomas Kail keeps the action brisk, and does a fabulous job of staging in the round for the notoriously tricky Circle in the Square space. You don’t have to be a football fan to enjoy Lombardi, but it wouldn’t hurt.
For tickets, click here.