At Ocean State Theatre Lombardi Is Played With Dark Vigor

Nov 15, 2013

Jennifer Byrne, Robert Ierardi and Joel Kipper in the New England premiere of "Lombardi."
Credit Mark Turek / Ocean State Theatre

Ah yes, the late Vince Lombardi. I can see him now, back in the black and white TV era of the 1960s. He’s standing like a statue on the sidelines on the tundra that is a Green Bay football field. Legs apart, polo coat covering his broad shoulders, absurd fedora on his head. And most of all there’s his shouting, bellowing, at anyone nearby. The refs, his own players, his assistant coaches, were all fair game, targets of his single minded drive.

He was the Bill Belichick of his time, the best-known coach in all of football. Only louder, tougher, harder to deal with.

That could make a pretty good play. Tough guy with a heart of steel and all that.

Well, “Lombardi” tries hard. Taking from a very fine book about the coach by Dave Maraniss of the Washington Post, playwright Eric Simonson does his best to outline his subject. He traces Vince Lombardi’s life from his days as a college football playing demon through being a longtime assistant coach to his break in getting the Green Bay job.

We see Coach at home, domineering as usual. Has he finished his first scotch and soda? He simply orders his long-suffering wife, Marie, to get him another. And pronto!

We learn that he had tough parents, but could never understand his own son. We learn that he had high standards for everyone, especially himself. We see his fear of failure, his need to be the best.

Played with dark vigor and a gnawing need that never goes away by the excellent Robert Ierardi, we learn that the coach is a complicated man, as hard on himself as he is on others.

We see his wife, done with quiet strength by Jennifer Byrne, withstand all of this with deftness and satiric humor.  We see the Coach with his players, once famous names like Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor, who put up with and even learn to love being his “boys.” We watch as the coach duels with a sportswriter.

But all of this, unfortunately, becomes something of a one-horse pony. In the end, we are led to see Vince Lombardi as a man to be admired for his attributes and forgiven for his faults. Well, aren’t we all.

Despite the strong moments, and able direction by Aimee Turner, “Lombardi” turns out to be only fairly good. It’s a play about passion that never displays deep, abiding passion, never can quite give you those goose bumps when you realize it has reached to the soul of its subject. 

In the end, then, “Lombardi” must receive the most dreaded score any sports team can get. It’s a tie, at best.

Want to Go?

“Lombardi” continues at the Ocean State Theatre in Warwick through November 24th.

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