by Eric Simonson
Directed by Thomas Kail
Starring Dan Lauria, Judith Light and Keith Nobbs
Circle in the Square
Offiicial Website

Reviewed by David Spencer

As the title unabashedly announces, Lombardi by Eric Simonson (based on the book When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi by David Maraniss) is a “bio-pic” play about football coach Vince Lombardi (Dan Lauria), offered here as the remembrance of a then-young reporter (Keith Nobbs) sent to Green Bay, Wisconsin in 1965 to do a magazine profile on The Great Man. Whether you have an avid interest in sports of any kind or not at all, Lombardi is, perhaps not surprisingly, in being delivered so well, one of the most notably “feelgood” plays of the last decade or so. I’m not saying it’s a great play, but it’s greatly entertaining, and in being about a man whose job it was to inspire, it pulls off the not-easy trick of being inspirational—at the very least of imbuing its audience with hope for the human condition—at the same time.

                        Simonson’s script is what I sometimes think of as a “paperback play” because it’s populist and middle-brow in terms of diction and approach, but it’s compelling enough to keep you wanting to “turn the pages,” as it were. This is helped in no small measure by the three principal performances under the direction of Thomas Kail (which features also some very smart devices, human and mechanical, to conquer the in-the-round space of Circle in the Square). Lauria is the very essence of the tough-love coach; as the reporter, Nobbs has his own Irish street-kid feistiness (that’s another thing: Simonson avoids the trap of making the “kid” a cipher); and finally as Marie Lombardi, Judith Light may well walk away with the show as the tough love wife behind the tough love coach, yet a city girl who moved to the country to take a hit for the home team.

                        The structure is tight and economical, the laughs are frequent and solid, the dialogue has (in the best sense) television polish, and at the end, when the reporter sums up Lombardi as “the most perfect imperfect man I ever met,” you’re happy to concur. At least there in the moment, and after all, isn’t “the moment” what live theatre’s about…?

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