by Clark Groome
Frank Lucas’ hit on Lyle Turner in an Oakland Raiders/New England Patriots pre-season game 25 years ago left Turner a quadraplegic. Based on the real-life collision between Jack Tatum and Darryl Stingley, David Robson’s “Assassin” deals with Lucas’ and Turner’s lives.
They are to meet in a Chicago hotel room to discuss an upcoming joint interview following the Super Bowl. Lucas (Brian Anthony Wilson) is surprised when Turner doesn’t show but rather sends his lawyer, Lewis, (Dwayne A. Thomas) to begin the negotiations about the TV interview.
The 70-minute one-act has more twists and turns than a 90-yard punt return. Much of it has to do with guilt and responsibility, some with misunderstanding. It’s often quite powerful and just as often somewhat contrived.
Robson has a good ear for dialogue and a sensitivity to his subject and his characters but never makes all the territory covered seem believable. What is most troubling — although it still has its moments — is the number of issues wedged into the relatively short piece.
For all of the text’s contrivances, Seth Reichgott’s fine world premiere production saves the evening. After a stop at the InterAct Theatre Company in Center City, “Assassin” is playing at Ambler’s Act II Playhouse through March 17.
Two very strong performances and Reichgott’s energetic direction make the play an intense and articulate discussion of the violence in football, a sport that seems to be loved as much for the mayhem created by big, head- and spine-crushing contact as it is for the beauty of a successful Hail Mary pass or a beautiful run.
The fine physical production — designed by Dirk Durosette (set), James Leitner (lighting) and Maggie Baker (costumes) — turns that Chicago hotel room into an increasingly claustrophobic combination football stadium and court room.
Brian Anthony Wilson’s Frank is big and blustery yet aching for some sort of redemption for the damage he did with what was then viewed as a legal hit. He’s a big drinker who, some of the time, has that under control.
Dwayne A. Thomas has the tougher, subtler role as the lawyer representing Lyle. Revelations about both men are best left unreported, but it is clear that there is a lot more going on between these two than is originally visible on the surface.
Even as the play takes somewhat contrived twists on its journey, when the play ends — or at least when it ended on Act II’s opening night — the audience sat in stunned silence, a silence that was slowly replaced by increasingly enthusiastic applause and, at least for the actor and production, a well-deserved standing ovation.
The subject matter is relevant. The issue is one that affects anyone who watches football or has kids playing it. For all its weaknesses, “Assassin” is an important, if not fully realized, theatrical attempt at dealing with the serious issues that face players and fans.
For tickets to the Act II Playhouse production of “Assassin,” which plays through March 17, call 215-654-0200 or visit www.act2.org