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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Circle in the Square


  Dan Lauria and Judith Light/ Ph: Joan Marcus

Before seeing Lombardi, a drama about the legendary single-minded coach of the Green Bay Packers, based on David Maraniss’ book “When Pride Still Mattered” and produced in association with the NFL, I knew exactly one thing about football: I must never bother my husband when the New York Giants are playing.
At the end of Lombardi, which runs 90 minutes without an intermission—sorry, halftime—I knew a few more things about the game. I knew, for example, that the Chicago Bears went unbeaten in 1934 and 1942, that Packers’ defensive end-turned linebacker Dave Robinson was a former All-American, and that in 1962 the Packers’ running back Jim Taylor was the league’s MVP, ran 1472 yards, went 5.4 yards per carry and scored 19 touchdowns.
What I don’t know is what Lombardi is doing on a stage, let alone a Broadway stage. There is nothing even remotely theatrical about what transpires at Circle in the Square even though for once the stadium-style seating seems completely apposite. All exposition, no drama, this gabfest by Eric Simonson feels like a production you might see at the Football Hall of Fame, a biopic come to life, one that uses the hoariest of devices: reporter comes to town to interview main character.
In this particular case the reporter is one Michael McCormick (Keith Nobbs), a young green writer for Look Magazine who also serves as the play’s narrator. In that capacity, his Garden State accent often makes Lombardi seem like Jersey Boys. Michael is in Green Bay for a week to get the skinny on Vince (Dan Lauria doing what he can), and good luck to him.
The coach, in his signature camel’s hair coat, Homburg, horn-rimmed glasses and high dudgeon, is as elusive as a starting half back. And when, by chance, he says anything that seems remotely quotable, it’s quickly deemed off the record. Still, endearingly, Coach offers this about a championship game: “We didn’t lose. We just ran out of time.” 
In between encounters with the cub reporter, Lombardi leads practices, shouting, chews out his star players Paul Hornung (Bill Dawes), Jim Taylor (the very good Chris Sullivan) and Dave Robinson (Robert Christopher Riley), more shouting, and conducts chalk talks, laying out what would become the Packers’ classic play, the Power Sweep. Every so often, Lombardi grabs at his stomach and gasps, a sign of bad things to come.
Meanwhile, Michael, who with all due respect doesn’t really seem to have a reporter’s chops, delivers awkward chunks of expository dialogue. “You were already there the first season,” he tells Paul Hornung (but surely the Golden Boy must have known that without hearing it from a stranger). “In 1958 the Packers were trolling the depths of professional football. In three seasons Vince Lombardi turned those perpetual losers into perennial winners,” he tells the audience. And so on and so on.
But Lombardi, which is set mostly in 1965 but flashes back to 1958 and 1959, has something at least as potent as the Power Sweep. That would be Judith Light, who plays Vince’s chain-smoking, plain-spoken wife Marie. “God, family and the Green Bay Packers are the three most important things in his life. But not necessarily in that order,” she tells Michael, managing to make clear just how fed up she is, but—most touchingly—to make equally clear how she can’t help loving that man of hers. Vince may have been the star in the Lombardi family. Light, first string all the way, is the true star of Lombardi.

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