Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Set over a week in 1965, the play centers on the reporter Michael McCormick, who has come to Green Bay to write a story on Lombardi for Look magazine. Lombardi has just suffered a stinging blow from an unfavorable article in Esquire magazine, so, even though he's somewhat guarded, he still treats the reporter kindly, and even has him stay at his home during his visit. But McCormick discovers that getting beneath the exterior and discovering just what made Lombardi such a winning coach is a struggle. Fortunately, through a series of encounters that McCormick has with Lombardi's wife Marie and a few of his star players, we learn of specific events, shown as flashbacks, and discover a some key moments in Lombardi's life that center on his loyalty, dedication and passion.
Lombardi isn't a complete biography of the legendary coach but more a character study of the traits of the man and the people around him. It touches on his solid yet combustive relationship with his wife, his rocky dealings with his children, especially his son, and the way he treated his players as equals. Most of all, it shows both Marie and the players' steadfast dedication to follow him, warts and all. While the play does have its shortcomingsit is never able to actually show what made Lombardi so successful, or truly get into the man that he isit is still a fairly well written introduction to this legend who inspired so many.
With a gruff New York accent and expressive mannerisms, Timothy Pittman brings the iconic man to life on the small DST stage. He is engaging, mesmerizing, and yet also completely human in his depiction of Lombardi. Pittman is superb in showing the demons that haunt the coach, from the struggle to win, to the way he only sees the things in a person or a play that need to improve, to how stomach issues are something he doesn't want to deal with. Lombardi was known for being demanding yet fair as a coach, and Pittman gives us a glimpse into the soft side beneath the hard outer shell. It is an excellent, well rounded performance full of nuance. As McCormick, Chase Reynolds has to serve not only as the narrator of the piece but also as the observer for many of the key moments in the play. Reynolds manages a fine performance, especially in the way in which he associates Lombardi with his own father, and the way he, like Lombardi, comes to care for Marie and the players. However, there are a few, brief moments in the more emotional narrative where his line delivery approaches the melodramatic. Fortunately, those moments are brief, and overall he does a good job as the onlooker.
Dyana Carroll is exceptional as the ever-accepting Marie. She instinctively shows in her body language and facial expressions that the frequent yelling and argumentative nature of the coach are things that Marie has put up with for years. Carroll brings plenty of compassion to this woman. Her many scenes with Reynolds and the players also exhibit how Marie, just like her husband, really cares for these men. It is a very likable and winning performance. What's even more outstanding about her portrayal is that she was a replacement for the original actress who had to have emergency surgery, and Carroll only had two weeks of rehearsals to perfect her part. The three players on the team are played by William Broyles IV, Matthew Fields Winter, and William Hayden Edgmon. They all do fine in playing somewhat realistic football players, with each providing fine moments in the necessary events in Lombardi's backstory.
Director Mark-Alan C. Clemente has opted to place an intermission in the original one-act 90-minute play which provides a nice break, at an opportune moment, in the action, and he obviously has directed his cast well in achieving well-rounded performances. The small DST stage is well suited to this small cast play, and Clemente uses the stage efficiently in moving us from once location to the next. He also created the set design, which features a few cut-out areas to quickly change scenes as well as a large black wall that is used quite creatively at the end of the first act. Matt Stetler's lighting design is excellent, especially in the nighttime scene at the Lombardi house, and Tamara Treat's costumes provide some appropriate dresses for Marie, semi-soiled football uniforms for the players, and nice period touches, including Lombardi's iconic long coat.
If you're not a football fan, don't worryyou'll still find much to like in Lombardi, as the themes of commitment, loyalty, and pride are universal. Though the play isn't a complete biography of the man, it does show how this complicated, multi-faceted coach was a powerhouse with a loyal wife, players, and fans who could look past his shortcomings to be inspired to be the best they could be. With some exceptional performances, the Desert Stages production of Lombardi scores a touchdown.
Lombardi runs through March 15th, 2015, at Desert Stages Theatre in Scottsdale. For more information, call 480 483-1664 or visit desertstages.org.
Written by Eric Simonson