by Raphael Badagliacca
So it’s “Halftime with Don” — the newest play at NJ Repertory Company in Long Branch. Time to review the game plan, and consider the players. If there is a reflective moment in an undertaking as intensely physical as football, halftime is it.
Don Devers (Malachy Cleary) is a well-known NFL player now living in self-imposed obscurity. Ed Ryan (Dan McVey) is an out-of-work aspiring sports writer as well as a fan of Devers who cannot believe the stroke of good fortune that has brought him into the life of his football idol.
Ed’s wife, Sarah (Susan Maris), is about to become a mother for the first time, struggling with the dual challenges of bringing a child into the world and maintaining her husband’s fragile self esteem. Don’s brash daughter, Stephanie (Lori Vega), is also pregnant, by a married football player who is AWOL from her life.
Through a series of machinations arranged by the two women for different purposes, Ed enters Don’s lair, where he finds his idol in serious decline due to the countless hits he has taken in his career. He is living on junk food and pain medication. He is full of regrets. His personality is vibrant, charming at times, comedic at times, insightful, and prone to violent outbursts. He is lucid about his circumstances except when he “precipitously” loses control. Following football, he had a successful career as an attorney and he uses the word “precipitously” with lawyer-like accuracy. The first career has ruined the second one, and left the man in ruins. But he has a plan, and once Ed wins his trust he enlists the younger man in making it happen.
His daughter also has a plan. The married couple are two innocents compared to the father and daughter. The obvious pregnancy of the two young women, announces to us that life is full of transitional roles, sometimes thrust upon us. The women will shortly become mothers with all that entails. Ed will take on the long-term responsibility of fatherhood of which he is barely conscious, plus he is faced with the mind-altering, immediate directive to transform the image of one of his heroes. And Don Devers is fraught with transition, including one he has not yet negotiated.
This is a moving piece of work, and you don’t have to be a sports fan to be moved.
HALFTIME with DON
Written by Ken Weitzman; directed by Kent Nicholson; scenic designer, Jessica Parks; lighting designer, Jill Nagle; technical director; Brian P. Snyder; sound designer, Merek Royce Press costume designer, Patricia E. Doherty; stage manager, Kristin Pfeiffer; properties, Marisa Procopio; fight director, Brad Lemons; assistant director, Lindy Regan; artistic director, SuzAnne Barabas; executive producer, Gabe Barabas.
With: Malachy Cleary, Susan Maris, Dan McVey, and Lori Vega.