‘Lombardi” is a play about Vince Lombardi, the legendary professional football coach of the Green Bay Packers. But you do not have to know much about football, or even Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Adapted by Eric Simonson from David Maraniss’ 1999 biography “Why Pride Still Mattered: The Vince Lombardi Story,” the play is really about relationships. An earlier stage version played at theaters in Madison and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, moved to New York, and opened at Circle-in-the-Square in September of 2010, where it received generally positive reviews and racked up 244 performances.
The current run at Off-Broadstreet Theater in Hopewell is strongly directed and has a terrific cast led by Jonathan Wierzbicki (Lombardi) and Deborah Peckman (as his wife, Marie).
Wierzbicki is a veteran of many area plays, including “Pygmalion” (as Henry Higgins), “Streetcar Named Desire,” Glass Menagerie,” “A View from the Bridge,” and “Young Frankenstein.”
Peckman, who has acted abroad, is returning from an extended layoff, performing as an actual mother, housewife, and assorted other roles in the meantime. She was last seen at Off-Broadstreet 20 years ago in “The Baker’s Wife.”
Their scenes are electric, with great tension and passion, and clearly inspire the rest of the cast. Wierzbicki catches all of Lombardi’s strong character, touch of anger, and his belief that winning is the real — or only — thing. My favorite Lombardi quote — one that reveals his character — isn’t in the play, but it is worth repeating: “The only place ‘success’ comes before ‘work’ is in the dictionary.”
John Bergeron, another OBT veteran (more than a dozen shows) plays the somewhat thankless role of Michael McCormick, the reporter assigned to an article on Lombardi, but clearly the play’s intended moderator. He handles it with great style and an inside wit. Isaiah Davis, Jack Gerhard, and Ryan Diminick play Robbie Robinson, Paul Hornung, and Jim Taylor, three football players who represent the squad.
A word about Bob Thick’s direction: it takes a particularly clever man to spot the trouble moments from the very beginning and solve them. This is a play that easily can turn to preaching or worse. Thick cleverly modulates such scenes to avoid anger. It can easily turn to mush and he never allows such moments to develop.
Lombardi, Off-Broadstreet Theater, 5 South Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell. Through Saturday, November 5, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m.; Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m. $27 to $31.50 includes dessert. 609-466-2766 or www.off-broadstreet.com.