Play revisits a real-life football drama

Line of scrimmage: Dwayne A. Thomas (left) and Brian Anthony Wilsonin "Assassin" at Act II Playhouse.
Line of scrimmage: Dwayne A. Thomas (left) and Brian Anthony Wilsonin "Assassin" at Act II Playhouse. (KATHRYN RAINES / Plate 3 Photography)
Posted: February 23, 2013

A version of this review appeared in the Jan. 25 Inquirer.

The score of 22-14 in football would not sound like a blowout to anyone who had not watched the game unfold. This understanding applies to David Robson's Assassin, a brutal gridiron drama, a co-production now playing at Ambler's Act II Playhouse after receiving its world premiere at InterAct Theatre Company last month.

Robson based Assassin on the hit delivered by Oakland Raider Jack Tatum on New England Patriot Darryl Stingley in a 1978 preseason game that left Stingley paralyzed from the neck down. Although the two never reconciled, Robson's telling imagines a prelude to such a reconciliation, here negotiated between former defensive back Frank "the Assassin" Lucas (Brian Anthony Wilson) and Lewis (Dwayne A. Thomas), a lawyer for the paralyzed player.

At first glance, it seems like a dramatic deficiency not to build one character on the injured athlete, and Robson's script takes half the 80-minute running time to approach the intense end zone of this drama's themes.

Once there, however, Assassin draws on a playbook of guilt and recrimination, the legacy of sins passed from fathers to sons, and the need for justice even for unintentional actions. Seth Reichgott's direction blitzes through charged confrontations and accusations, threading in the two twists like trick plays.

Wilson's powerful portrayal looms over Dick Durosette's stark hotel-room setting. His is a man wracked by real guilt from an artificial source: He broke no NFL rules, but long after a career that should have earned him a spot in the Hall of Fame, he still dragged around the corpse of one play like a millstone.

Assassin adds an important contribution to contemporary theater. Few imagine that sport, particularly football, teems with tragic moral significance - as Wilson notes, "Nobody thinks they have to pay a price." Robson lights up the gridiron with theater's most powerful device: the consequence of human action that results not from willful choice but from devastating tragedy. And that's a blowout, no matter what the actual score on stage.


Assassin

Through March 17 at Act II Playhouse,

56 E. Butler Ave., Ambler.

Tickets: $27-$33. Information: 215-654-0200, www.act2.org

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