America’s obsession with football at the Berkeley Rep

Dancing is a contact sport. Football is a concussion sport.
– Vince Lombardi, legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers

(l to r) Eddie Ray Jackson (Anthony) and Bill Geisslinger (Frank) in the world premiere of X’s and O’s (A Football Love Story), a hard-hitting docudrama at Berkeley Rep that examines our country’s passion for a game that can be life-enhancing and lethal (Photo: Kevin Berne)

(l to r) Eddie Ray Jackson (Anthony) and Bill Geisslinger (Frank) in the world premiere of X’s and O’s (A Football Love Story), a hard-hitting docudrama at Berkeley Rep that examines America’s passion for a game that can be life-enhancing and also lethal (Photo: Kevin Berne)

 

Ballet to the People came equipped to X’s and O’s, the Berkeley Rep world première of a play about violence in American football: she brought an interpreter, a former quarterback from the great state of Texas, to the docudrama subtitled, with gentle irony, A Football Love Story.

As it turns out, she did not need to be filled in on the intricacies of the trap sweep or the mechanics of the blind side blitz. The dynamite ensemble of six players (including Dwight Hicks, a former Defensive Captain of the San Francisco 49ers and two-time Super Bowl champ) made their devastating points with a compelling economy of dialogue and movement.

There is no denying Americans’ fascination with gladiatorial pursuits, and their admiration for those who push their bodies to extremes and “play through the pain” – unlike the softies who play soccer and are constantly faking injury, Ballet to the People’s date reminded her sotto voce.

But a big part of the enjoyment is the undeniable art and beauty of the game. Those twisting, leaping, one-handed catches by the likes of New England Patriot tight end Rob Gronkowski, and New York Giant Odell Beckham Jr. And the heralded fingertip grabs with toe-dragging footwork that is the specialty of players like Pittsburgh Steeler Santonio Holmes.

As the tragic deaths of players like Junior Seau shine a spotlight on the darker side of the game, as science reveals more about the nature of long term brain injury, as players and their families pressure the NFL for reforms, and as team owners hold entire cities hostage, X’s and O’s offers no easy answer to the question “Is football too big to fail?”

– More in Carla’s full-length review in the Huffington Post. –

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