James Detmar as Vince Lombardi at History Theatre. Photo by Scott Pakudaitis.

by REBECCA HALAT, Guest Reviewer
Starting out with a football throwing sequence, History Theatre’s Lombardi got a “pass” for those cheesy moves, as it felt appropriate to have some element of cheese in a play about a football team from Wisconsin. Although there were a few problems with the production, in all this is a truly charming show. Of course, lovers of football and especially lovers of the Green Bay Packers (full disclosure—I count myself in both of these categories) will enjoy this production, but even if your fandom lies in the theatre and not in the stadium, this play is a hilarious treat.

James Detmar was impressive as the larger-than-life personality of Vince Lombardi, Green Bay Packer coach from 1959 to 1969. Unfortunately, the set did not reflect this period well, as most of the furniture looked it came from Ikea instead of the 1960s. Nonetheless, Detmar’s performance turned Lombardi into a generally likeable and sympathetic character while maintaining his loud, threatening, and domineering personality. The three men in the roles of the Green Bay Packer players were solid, and only Peter Middlecamp, playing Michael McCormick, a reporter writing a story on Lombardi, came off as flat.

Norah Long as Marie Lombardi really stole the show, but not in a way that detracted from Lombardi’s booming personality. Her comic timing was impeccably precise. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this story about a tough football coach was actually funny and engaging. While these actors largely portrayed their roles well, the script seemed to call for many interruptions between character’s lines, which did not work well, making it seem more like the actors had forgotten their lines.

As the name of the History Theatre suggests, I learned quite a bit about Coach Lombardi, and it was the first time I left the theater wanting to investigate a theatrical production’s subject further. While Lombardi could easily rest on its story of football, playwright Eric Simonson used a biography of Lombardi (When Pride Still Mattered by David Maraniss) to raise questions of social justice, race, and sexuality, all issues that touched the coach’s life. While football has historically been seen as a masculinist, exclusive sport, the depiction of Coach Lombardi shows us that there are alternatives within the sport. Having experienced racism because of his Italian heritage, Lombardi made sure that all his players, black or white, where treated with fairness and respect. This context of equality seems especially pressing now as football players like the Vikings’ Chris Kluwe are engaging in a discussion of same-sex marriage, often rejecting old forms of heterosexual masculinity traditionally associated with football. This play made me wonder how Lombardi, whose brother was gay, would react to this current debate.

For those Vikings fans out there, don’t be afraid to go! I found a diverse crowd, as evidenced by subtle yet visible and competing Vikings and Packers paraphernalia. Lombardi is a nice story with many Midwestern references that allows Minnesotans and Wisconsinites, as well as football fans and theater fans, to find common ground. Much like how the 1960s Packers became football’s greatest franchise, that’s no small feat.

Rebecca Halat studies masculinity and French literature at the University of Minnesota. She is unapologetically in favor of pop culture and the Green Bay Packers.

by Eric Simonson, directed by Ron Peluso. At History Theatre, 30 East Tenth Street, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55101. October 6 – November 4. Tickets $15-40 at 651.292.4323 or visit http://www.historytheatre.com.

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