Lombardi -- Theater Review

The NFL will have to use its considerable marketing muscle to make this football drama a hit. 

Finally, there’s a Broadway show to which husbands can drag their wives rather than the other way around. But though the new biodrama about famed football coach Vince Lombardi is bound to attract sports fans who otherwise would not venture near a theater, theatergoers not inherently interested in the subject are going to be a much tougher sell. Heavy on sports atmosphere but light on content, “Lombardi” doesn't make it to the goal line.

Eric Simonson’s play, based on David Maraniss’ 1999 book “When Pride Still Mattered,” employs the hoariest of structures to tell its story. Set mostly in 1965, just before the Green Bay Packers began their amazing NFL championship winning streak, it mainly revolves around Lombardi’s (Dan Lauria) interactions with a magazine reporter (Keith Nobbs) writing a feature story about him.

With the reporter literally moving into his subject’s home, there is plenty of opportunity for expository dialogue as he interacts with the volatile coach and his loyal wife, Marie (Judith Light). Lombardi, frustrated by his team’s failure over the past two seasons — the Pack came in second — is determined to not let it happen again. And the hard-drinking Marie is all too eager to offer barbed comments about life in provincial Wisconsin.

Naturally, much of the action also is set in the locker room, where we see Lombardi’s interactions with three of his star players: hard-partying halfback Paul Hornung (Bill Dawes), financially savvy fullback Jim Taylor (Chris Sullivan) and black linebacker Dave Robinson (Robert Christopher Riley).

The play delivers plenty of examples of its subject’s impassioned views about life on and off the gridiron, but often it comes across as speechifying rather than natural-sounding dialogue. Although we are dutifully fed plenty of information about Lombardi’s life and career, Simonson has failed to construct interesting drama out of it. It’s narrative flash with little substance.

Speaking of flash, director Thomas Kail’s staging provides plenty of it. The often-awkward in-the-round space at Circle in the Square is uncommonly well-used, with projections overhead and on the stage providing ample visuals necessary to sate video-saturated NFL fans.

Lauria, who shares Italian and Brooklyn origins with his character, is suitably blustery and charismatic in the title role, but the performance is more impressive for its surface characteristics than its depth. Light is, as usual, terrific as the wife whose acerbic comments provide much of the evening’s humor.

Venue: Circle in the Square, New York (Through Feb. 20)
Presented by: Fran Kirmser, Tony Ponturo and Friends of Lombardi in association with the NFL
Cast: Dan Lauria, Judith Light, Keith Nobbs, Bill Dawes, Robert Christopher Riley, Chris Sullivan
Playwright: Eric Simonson
Director: Thomas Kail
Scenic designer: David Korins
Costume designer: Paul Tazewell
Lighting designer: Howell Binkley
Sound designer: Acme Sound Partners