Theatre Jacksonville and the Florida East Coast Railway presents the Florida premiere of “Lombardi,” on stage at 2032 San Marco Boulevard through November 9. For reservations call 396-4425.
This play about football legend Vince Lombardi should be of special interest to theatre goers in the Jacksonville and North Florida area, since we are the home of the National Football League’s Jaguars. Lombardi is considered one of the greatest coaches of the game, leading the Green Bay Packers to five League championships and the first two Super Bowl championships.
Playwright Eric Simonson based the drama on the book “When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi,” by David Maraniss . It opened on Broadway in 2010 and ran a respectable 274 performances. Simonson has written another play about the role of sports in American life, “Bronx Bombers,” which is scheduled to open on Broadway in January, 2014, after a recent successful Off-Broadway run.
The play is set mostly in 1965, with flashbacks to 1958, 1959 and 1964. The set has three sections. In the background is a set of goal posts and a large video screen which displays film footage of Green Bay Packer games from the Lombardi era, all carefully selected and woven together by Director Jason Collins. The foreground depicts Lombardi’s living room, and his office.
MICHAEL RAY as Coach Lombardi brings a remarkable clear and detailed portrayal of this complex and fascinating man to the stage. Yes, he talks about his passion, football, but he also relates his philosophy about life in this authentic and powerful theatrical piece.
The plot is constructed around a series of interviews by a young reporter who recently accepted a position at “Look” magazine. Michael McCormick is writing an in-depth study of his subject, and many of the interviews take place at Lombardi’s home. DANIEL N. AUSTIN is splendid as Michael, capturing a youthful brashness tempered with an intelligent probing of motivations and controversies in Lombardi’s life.
ALEXIS LAMBERT is picture perfect as Marie, Lombardi’s understanding wife. She is a football widow, who supports him and his passions, despite the fact she hated leaving New York with its sophisticated cultural offerings to come to cold, and endlessly snowy Green Bay. This is Ms. Smith’s theatre debut locally.
Three Green Bay players round out the cast. DAMON J. CLARK is linebacker Dave Robinson who was involved in the then fledgling NFL Players Association which, among other outrageous demands, wanted players to be paid for exhibition and pre-season games. MATT TOMPKINS captures the physicality of fullback Jim Taylor, while LUCAS HOPPER is believable as Paul Hornung, multi-talented but often in trouble due to issues in his personal life. Dressed in full playing uniforms at times, these three talented actors really gave us the feeling of being in a locker room.
As beloved as the demanding and successful coach was, Lombardi was not perfect. He drank heavily, had health problems, and refused to see a doctor about his frequent bouts of stomach pain. His unwillingness to seek medical treatment may have contributed to his death at age 57 in 1970.
The 1958 year segment was of particular interest. Lombardi was an assistant coach for the New York Giants, but was thinking of leaving to go into banking. Instead, he ended up accepting a position as head coach and general manager of the Green Bay Packers. Green Bay had a weak team, and didn’t appear to have a promising future, but Lombardi persisted in pursuing victory. His first year he won one game, lost ten and tied one. The second year he went seven and five. And then – well the rest is NFL history. Close to home, we have Gus Bradley, who is now a first time NFL head coach with the Jaguars. He has inherited a team of questionable talent, with a current 2013 record of 0 – 8. But with persistence, change is always possible, and who knows what years two and three will bring? Certainly, Lombardi’s story should give fans hope.
DAVID DAWSON’S Scenic and Lighting Design could not be better, and brought that game day look and feel to the stage. The remarkable TRACY OLIN recreated the team’s attire with football helmets, jerseys and shoes from the 1960s. We also liked the authentic Lombardi look and the lovely period dresses worn by his wife.
KATIE GILE was the equipment manager, AKA the Production Stage Manager, for the team.
JASON COLLINS, as Director has drafted an excellent cast to perform this exceptional play and his direction is a winner.
Spread the news. Theatre Jacksonville has gone high tech. Thanks to a grant from BAPTIST HEALTH, assistive listening devices are now available for all performances, at no charge. Availability is on a first come first serve basis at the TJ box office.
Don’t miss this show. You don’t have to be a football fan to enjoy it, you don’t even have to know anything about football. It is a fast paced one-act, about ninety minutes long, with absorbing performances centered around a character who is larger than life.