In my experience, football fans and theater goers don’t frequently overlap, but Playing the Assassin combines these two vastly different fandoms surprisingly successfully. With the second production of their season, Delaware Theatre Company scores another touchdown with Wilmington-based playwright David Robson’s realistic play.
Playing the Assassin is based on a true story of an NFL tackle between Jack Tatum to Darryl Stingley, leaving Stingley paralyzed from the waist down. The fictional plot of this story shows a snippet of the life of Oakland Raiders safety Frank Baker (Ezra Knight) and supposed CBS segment producer Lewis (Garrett Lee Hendricks) addressing issues of primal violence, hero worship, and race in the popular culture of the NFL.
Director Joe Brancato’s familiarity of this show is apparent. Knight and Hendricks reprise their roles from last fall at Penguin Rep Theater, once again under Brancato’s direction. Frank returning to the desk to take his pills over and over is a great reoccurring trope.
Knight plays the “assassin” Frank convincingly, bull headed insults, terrifying rage, and heartbreaking regret, all with a convincing limp and drunken progression. Hendricks’ mercurial emotional journey is nothing short of impressive. Whenever Lewis drops another bomb, the reveals are crystal clear and jaw-dropping, though occasionally a little weepy. The amazing chemistry between the two actors helps tantalize the audience with humor, drama, physicality and plot twists until the very end.
The unit set by Brian Prather was a perfectly designed 4-star hotel room, from the patterned carpet, hotel pamphlets and mini bar. The Chicago skyline paintings against the back wall especially were well throughout, giving location and indicating the swankiness of the hotel.
The lighting by Ed McCarthy suited the location well, especially the changing neon lights outside the hotel room window and light coming from the television. During the powerful physical fights, by Fight Director Christopher Plummer, the lighting became unrealistic and felt out of the place compared to the rest of the play. Sound Designer Emily Auciello helps the story, and specifically the underscoring heartbeat heightening the intense moments of the show.
Frank says, “Football is a game of individual players.” And theater doesn’t seem too off from that. It’s all about working together to complete a common goal, and Delaware Theatre Company successfully does that with Playing the Assassin. TOUCHDOWN!
Running Time: 85 minutes, with no intermission.