Eric Simonson’s 2010 Broadway play, “Lombardi,” about the legendary Green Bay Packers coach, employs smart dialogue and clever structure to make it a highly entertaining mini-biography, especially in Theatre Raleigh’s sharp, witty production.
Vince Lombardi’s five NFL championships in eight seasons as head coach for Green Bay, along with winning the first two Super Bowls, make him one of the all-time greats. But his legendary temper, discipline and perfectionism fueled those wins, causing great tension and pain to players, friends and family.
Simonson concentrates on one week in Lombardi’s 1965 season as he guides his team toward that year’s championship. Simonson invents a Look Magazine reporter, Michael McCormick, who’s sent to write a big piece on Lombardi. Still smarting from a negative Esquire article, Lombardi is wary of McCormick’s questions and restricts access to his players. McCormick narrates the difficulty in getting beneath Lombardi’s abrasive surface, having to rely instead on chats with Lombardi’s wife, Marie, and a secret meeting with players.
The 90-minute one-act follows McCormick’s weeklong stay, interspersed with flashbacks to Lombardi’s first Green Bay season. At week’s end, McCormick and Lombardi have a shout-filled, eye-opening argument that brings McCormick to a life-changing decision.
The writing is taut and filled with natural humor. It doesn’t try to give in-depth background on how Lombardi’s past shaped his personality, but there’s enough here to see how the drive to win colored his every action. There are few instances where Simonson has McCormick state biographical and statistical information in talking-encyclopedia fashion.
Theatre Raleigh’s cast is one of the strongest in recent productions. David Henderson’s Lombardi is a career high point, astutely showing a true love for wife and team that’s buried under the loud, rude and often cruel public persona. Judy McLane’s long-suffering Marie is a marvel of sarcasm and regret that, no matter how bitter, still reveals enduring love underneath. As McCormick, Adam Poole finds the appropriate gee-whiz quality of the rookie reporter, whose admiration for Lombardi is ultimately tempered with some sobering reality.
Jade Arnold’s linebacker Dave Robinson is feisty but levelheaded about Lombardi’s treatment. Victor Joel Ortiz supplies running back Paul Hornung with an engaging, do-whatever-he-says attitude. Dan Callaway’s fullback Jim Taylor is hotheaded and rebellious, one of the few to stand up to Lombardi.
Under Charlie Brady’s tightly coiled direction, the play moves along in cinematic fashion. The scene changes are fully choreographed, skillfully accomplished by the cast, including two additional team players, Cameron Denson and Kenny Hertling.
Erich Keil’s lighting precisely defines each location, while his projections of game films and chalkboard plays add veracity. Eric Alexander Collins’ sound design adds realism with crowd roars and bar music. Sarah McCabe’s 1960s fashions are spot-on, fitting beautifully into Chris Bernier’s setting of stadium seats, goal post and field lights.
Audiences won’t need to know much about football to appreciate what made Lombardi tick. Theatre Raleigh’s nigh-perfect acting and production values make the show easily recommended to all theatergoers.
What: “Lombardi,” presented by Theatre Raleigh
Where: Kennedy Theatre, Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh
When: 8 p.m. July 20-22, 26-29; 2 p.m. July 22, 29; 3 p.m. July 23, 30
Tickets: $30 (seniors/students/military $28)
Info: 919-832-9997 or theatreraleigh.com