A new play takes a look at a giant in sports history.
Thu Oct 21 2010
Photograph: Joan Marcus
WIN-WIN SITUATION Lauria cheers his boys to victory.
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5
Researchers have calculated that in your average three-hour NFL broadcast, the ball is in actual play for roughly 11 minutes. I can guarantee that, for the 95-minute duration of Lombardi, Dan Lauria's bellowing-to-speaking ratio is twice as much. Portraying the iconic coach who transformed his losing Green Bay Packers into serial winners in the early '60s, Lauria barks, shouts, howls, roars, and—for subtle effects—growls ominously. Vince Lombardi, we learn in Eric Simonson's canny and humorous script, was not a man given to understatement or mild utterance; through force of will and steel-reinforced lungs he vociferated his way into sports history.
Although Simonson's period drama holds deep respect for its subject as a given, the piece is not a shallow or brain-dead piece of gridiron hagiography. (How revered is Lombardi among pigskin fanatics? Think Hal Prince, circa 1980.) Instead, the playwright (working from David Maraniss's 1999 biography, When Pride Still Mattered) takes pains to show that Coach Lombardi was not winning prizes for World's Greatest Dad: He put team first and family second. Simonson hints at the estrangement of Lombardi's son and shows how his cocktail-loving wife, Marie (flinty and stylish Judith Light), hated living in Podunk, Wisconsin.
The warm, squarely paternal Dan Lauria stomps and chomps magnificently through his title role, revealing a man almost comically driven. There's enough flexibility in the text and performances that we see Lombardi as a tactical genius one minute and a screaming buffoon the next. His human flaws, alongside his talent, complete him. Luckily, he's not the only neatly rounded character on stage: With its uniformly good cast, tight direction and frequent flashes of humor, Lombardi is solid playing in every sense of the word.