Playwright Eric Simonson has a real gift for bringing out the human side of sports stories. With Bronx Bombers he completes what could be thought of as a Major American Sports Trilogy: he covered football with the 2010 Lombardi, basketball with the 2012 Magic/Bird and now finally baseball – in the persons of the New York Yankees – gets its inning with Bombers.
Having seen those other plays, I knew that I wasn’t in for an evening of stats and nonstop machismo. Stats are referred to but never laid out, and macho shit talk is played mostly for laughs – although any play that features Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson as characters would have to have some of that nonsense bullshit, or it just wouldn’t be accurate.
Bombers is much more epic and ambitious than the other two. Completely understandable: baseball has been America’s sport of choice much, much longer than the other two, going back to the 19th Century at least, maybe back to the 18th.
And a play about the Yankees – well, no matter what team you prefer, there’s no denying that the Yankees has the longest list of big personalities of perhaps any sports team, in perpetuity throughout the universe. Most of them make at least a cameo appearance here, which makes for moments that are easily the most moving and insightful in the trilogy. It does not make for consistently gripping storytelling, though; outside of those moments, Bronx Bombers can wander a bit.
This diffuse play comes into it’s clearest focus when dealing with Yogi Berra. Peter Scolari plays Berra, and he all but disappears into his portrayal of the beloved Yankees coach, nailing Berra’s skittish New Yawker demeanor, as well as his sly, surprising wit. A magnificent, award-worthy piece of acting.
While definitely a heartfelt and intelligent tribute to a team clearly near and dear to Simonson’s heart, this is perhaps the weakest of the three plays. Still, I can recommend it, on the basis of a handful of great moments and Scolari’s masterful performance. Undoubtedly, if you love the Yankees, you will love this.
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