“Lombardi” – Arizona Theatre Company

This review aired on KBAQ November 19, 2012


Arizona Theatre Company, Center Stage, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix, AZ

Sports don’t interest many theatergoers so I wondered what reaction Arizona Theatre Company’s southwest premiere staging of “Lombardi,” Eric Simonson’s play about football’s legendary coach, Vince Lombardi, would solicit.  But the excellent production and fascinating way the playwright adapted the biography, “When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi,” makes the play less about sports and more about Lombardi’s unique approach to life and how his attitudes influenced his successes.

It is November 1965, the height of Lombardi’s world championship football career.  Look Magazine reporter Michael McCormick gets to shadow Lombardi for a week.  He has unlimited access to the great coach as he moves into the coach’s house, befriends the coach’s wife, Marie, and talks freely with three key Green Bay Packers players, Paul Hornung, Dave Robinson, and Jim Taylor.  Each player reacts differently to Lombardi and each brings different perspectives to the legends surrounding Lombardi.  As the play progresses, we learn about Lombardi’s strengths and flaws as well as how he became an icon.  It’s a fascinating look at a complex man’s beliefs and how they influence his sports decisions.

Part of the reason “Lombardi” is so spell-binding is the superlative ATC production under Casey Stangl’s nimble staging.  Stangl, a well known Los Angeles-based director, marks her Arizona debut with “Lombardi.”  She staged it with a flowing simplicity that allows the coach’s actions, decisions, and thinking to evolve as various football-related activities reveal his feelings about people and his openness in the late ‘50s and ‘60s to integration and equality.  The play also reveals how much influence Lombardi’s wife, Marie, had in shaping his thinking.

Bob Ari is a forceful and dominate Lombardi, while Nick Mills is the perfect reporter who is initially overwhelmed by Lombardi but grows quickly into a tough questioner that forces the coach to reveal his methods.  DeeDee Rescher gets wife Marie perfectly right down to the raspy New Jersey accent including the huskiness due to her heavy drinking.  The three actors essaying the players, Branton Box, William Oliver Watkins, and David Hardie, are brutish but each reveals that under the toughness there’s a probing mind about the game and life.

“Lombardi” is a rich surprise.  Although it is about a sports figure and how his attitudes affected his coaching, it explores Lombardi’s approach to life and what influenced his decisions.  It continues at the Herberger Theater Center through December 2.  For tickets, call the Arizona Theatre Company box office at 602-256-6995 or order tickets online at www.arizonatheatre.org.

Grade: B