Even if, like me, you don’t know the difference between a tight end and a wide receiver (or is it a tight receiver and a wide end?), you can still get a lot out of Headstrong, Patrick Link’s troubled love letter to the game of football. Cosponsored by the science-minded Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Ensemble Studio Theatre’s world-premiere production tackles a controversial subject in the land of pigskin: postconcussion syndrome, and how it affects the players who grind their skulls into the dirt for a living.
Football won’t leave Sylvia Green (McClyde) alone. She’s coping with the death of her ex-husband, Ronnie, a former NFL running back who committed suicide after a bout of crippling depression. And her bulldoggish dad, Duncan (Canada), a retired Philly Eagle, is forever reminiscing about his glory days on the field. When a suit (Gemignani) shows up asking for the right to study Ronnie’s brain, Sylvia’s and Duncan’s guards both go up—but for very different reasons. Was Ronnie’s behavioral downswing the result of too many in-game blows to the head? And what does that mean for the future of football?
If it were all sports, Headstrong would be tough for nonfans to sit through. But Link has created a universal tale about the struggle between pride and self-preservation, and between honoring the past and creating a workable future. Even if the personalities here aren’t all that interesting, the ideological battles between them are. A strong cast helps to make this tight little story a minor home run—I mean, touchdown.—Jenna Scherer