Assassin, Interact Theatre Company/Act II Playhouse
Plays involving football are rare, and that alone makes the InterAct/Act II world premiere of Assassin noteworthy. But Wilmington resident David Robson’s drama doesn’t celebrate the popular and lucrative game. Instead, it explores the debate about the danger athletes put themselves into for our entertainment.
It does so with a fictionalized version of a real event: In 1978, when NFL players were protected by fewer rules and thinner pads, Raiders safety Jack Tatum hit Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley so forcefully that Stingley was left a quadriplegic. The men, both now deceased, never spoke afterward. Tatum never formally apologized, though he expressed regret about what happened, and later embraced the nickname The Assassin.
Robson imagines a meeting between Frank (Brian Anthony Wilson), the now-retired and ailing “assassin,” and Lewis (Dwayne A. Thomas), the lawyer for paralyzed Lyle, negotiating a reunion 25 years after the notorious event. Frank hopes it will provide much-needed income and publicity for his autobiography. What Lyle and Lewis want is less clear.
As with many two-person plays, Assassin offers more revelation than action — so giving away too much spoils the experience. Suffice it to say that Frank’s feelings are complicated: “All is fair in love, war and football,” he says, defensively. “The game is about fucking people up.” But beneath Frank’s bluster, Wilson reveals a tormented man. He’s haunted, but resents needing forgiveness for a career he’s proud of — and misses.
Uptight young Lewis is more than just Lyle’s mouthpiece, of course, and many of the play’s revelations are about his stake in this reunion. One might wish for Lyle to show up, but Lewis can provide both an opponent and a fan’s perspective: After all, that’s who those hard hits entertain.
Both actors bring Robson’s sometimes speechy, preachy script to life in Dirk Durossette’s suitably bland hotel-room set, notable for its peculiar distance from the audience and its unnecessary Chicago elevated-rail steel-beam framing. Assassin could be set anywhere — the drama is between the two outraged men, and, under Seth Reichgott’s sharp direction, it crackles.