Ocean State Theatre Company's second show of their first full season is the New England premiere of Academy Award-winner Eric Simonson's new American play, "Lombardi". This original work brings the audience into the life and times of one of America's most inspirational and mercurial personalities, Hall of Fame football coach, Vince Lombardi. Though football's Super Bowl trophy is named for him, few know the real story of Lombardi the man, his inspirations, his passions and his ability to drive people to achieve what they never thought possible. Based on the best-selling biography "When Pride Still Mattered:A Life of Vince Lombardi" by Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Maraniss, "Lombardi" is a powerful family drama that tells an inspiring story of one of the greatest football coaches of all time, whose fame and influence spread far beyond the gridiron. The play follows Lombardi through a week in the 1965 season as he attempts to lead his team to the championship. A "Look Magazine" reporter, Michael McCormick, wants to "find out what makes Lombardi win". He goes to Lombardi's wife, Marie, for answers and his wife reveals the family had an emotional move to Green Bay. Lombardi yells at Michael in front of the team and both of them storm off. Michael hears positive stories from three football players explaining "the honor of being barked at" by the coach. After he writes his news story, Michael reveals that he is quitting "Look Magazine" to form his own publishing company. Michael realizes that Lombardi is "the most imperfect perfect man'' he ever met. Lombardi urges them to win and encourages them in his own inimitable way. Director Amiee Turner takes her six member cast and infuses them with the energy to pull off these demanding roles in this well written biographical play.
Amiee also blends the humorous moments in this show with the dramatic ones. Leading the cast is Robert Ierardi as Vince Lombardi in this biographical drama. Robert exudes charisma as this character and he captures his bigger than life personality. He demands the best from his players in the locker room and shows how it applies in everyday life splendidly. The coach liked to say in chasing perfection we might not attain it but we can catch excellence in doing so. Jennifer Byrne plays Marie, Lombardi's faithful and feisty wife from New Jersey. Jennifer makes Marie into a formidable woman who shouldn't be trifled with and all the football players go to her when the Coach rides them too hard. She captures what makes this woman tick and how she is able to handle her larger than life husband. Marie explains her husband is a man of extremes. Jennifer and Robert have terrific chemistry together especially in their bickering scenes and a couple of poignant loving moments, too. Joel Kipper as Michael, delivers an amazing well rounded performance as this character who examines what makes Lombardi tick. Michael is also the narrator of this piece and the only fictitious character in it. Joel commands the stage and plays the role on many different levels, delivering the goods to an appreciative audience. He is onstage almost the whole time. Joel's drunken scene is hilarious and his interactions with Robert and Jennifer are marvelous. The scene with the three players at the pool hall is topnotch, too. His final lines about Vince Lombardi will leave a lump in your throat and a tear in your eye.
Playing Lombardi's football players are Barthelemy Atsin as Dave Robinson, Todd Berkich as Paul Hornung (I last saw Todd as Renaud in "La Cage Aux Folles" at Theatre by the Sea this past August.) and Thomas Schario as Jim Taylor. They defend their coach and explain his positive attributes to the inquisitive reporter. Dave explains how the coach demanded that his black players be treated with respect. Paul's love for partying aggravates the coach who makes it clear that he demands discipline from his players while Jim's insistence on using an agent displays Lombardi's temper which turns into fatherly concern. These three actors bring the comic moments out in their roles. So for a look at a new drama with fantastic acting that will entrance you whether you are a football fan or not, be sure to catch "Lombardi" at Ocean State Theatre Company.