The enduring legacy of Vince Lombardi (1913-1970), the renowned coach who led the Green Bay Packers to five championships in seven seasons and the first two Super Bowl victories, resonates with candid, entertaining potency in Eric Simonson’s aptly titled character study “Lombardi,” which receives a terrific local premiere at the Human Race Theatre Company.
Based on David Maraniss’ novel “When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi” and directed with crisp urgency by Tim Lile, “Lombardi” spotlights the temperamental Vince (the marvelously abrasive Edward Furs) in 1965 before the Packers’ winning streak defined his career. Eager, statistics-adoring cub reporter Michael McCormick (an endearing Jarred Baugh) is sent to interview the extremely passionate coach, but their exchanges are not always smooth. The duo attempts to establish a meaningful father-son connection, but Vince’s prickly, off-putting persona often undercuts their bond, especially when he scolds Michael for interviewing a few players at practice without his permission. Still, football is the tie that binds them together for good and bad. Michael ultimately grows to comprehend, accept and respect the aggressively perfectionist spirit that kept Vince, a heavy drinker who refused to be treated for stomach problems which eventually led to his death from colon cancer, tirelessly motivated to inspire his team for greatness and play for pride on the field.
Furs, dynamically boisterous, gruff and imposing, is not an exact physical representation of Vince, but his sharp eye contact and rousing cadence certainly gives ample, intimidating credibility to his astute portrayal. Baugh warmly guides the audience through the action as the play’s narrator, remaining believably focused on obtaining the true story behind the legend. Marcy McGuigan brings delicious sarcasm and wit to her excellent, gently seductive portrayal of Vince’s tipsy wife Marie, an unyielding support system emotionally drawn to Michael and the Packers, particularly Paul Hornung, appealingly portrayed by the very charismatic Brandon Dahlquist. Gabriel Lawrence (Dave Robinson) and Ryan Imhoff (Jim Taylor) are also first-rate as teammates with deep animosity toward each other. Imhoff in particular shines opposite Furs in a heated argument regarding Taylor’s loose lips and desire for more money, which absolutely infuriates Vince.
Taking a page from his co-direction of the Human Race’s sublime 2007 production of “Take Me Out,” Lile begins the proceedings with the national anthem. The inviting atmospherics extend to his wonderful creative team consisting of scenic designer Tamara L. Honesty, lighting designer John Rensel, costumer Ayn Wood, sound designer Matthew P. Benjamin and video designer Shaunn Baker. Honesty’s chalkboard set immersed in various football plays, Rensel’s stadium-inspired lighting and Baker’s projections featuring period images and footage are noteworthy.
By conceiving the play as a one-act, Simonson doesn’t completely delve into Vince’s intriguing, flawed personal history, which is unfortunate. Mentions of Vince’s children, especially his testy relationship with his son, only scratches the surface. Additional flashbacks focusing on his marriage, faith, family and upbringing would have added greater depth.
Nonetheless, “Lombardi” is a fascinating look at an imperfect icon.
“Lombardi,” which is performed in 100 minutes without intermission, continues through Feb. 24 at the Loft Theatre, 126 N. Main St. Performances are Tuesday at 7 p.m., Wednesday-Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $36-$40. There are a limited number of $25 tickets available for each performance. A talkback forum will be held following the Feb. 17 performance. Additionally, during the run of “Lombardi” an assortment of Lombardi memorabilia from Sinclair Community College athletic director Jack Giambrone’s vast collection will be on display in the Loft lobby. For tickets or more information, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit online at www.ticketcenterstage.com