By Shannon Adams
Special to The Communitarian
“Playing the Assassin” saw its eighth showing on the Delaware Theatre Company stage on a rainy Wednesday afternoon in Wilmington, Del. Oct 28.
Written by DCCC English professor David Robson, “Playing the Assassin” is a stage play inspired by the real life story of Jack Tatum, a player for the Oakland Raiders, whose tackle left Darryl Stingly of the New England Patriots paralyzed in 1978.
Though “Playing the Assassin” is based on actual events, it by no means is hindered by them, for Robson doesn’t neglect emotional language or the politics of the game; instead, he convincingly molds them into one.
The audience responded most to moments of high tension and emotion. In one such scene, the Oakland Raiders safety Frank Baker (played by Ezra Knight) tells Lewis Turner, a CBS segment producer (played by Garrett Lee Hendricks), the emotional story of how he once went to visit the man he had paralyzed.
The play lasted approximately 90 minutes without intermission and was followed by a short Q&A with DCCC students before concluding with an even shorter meet and greet with the cast and playwright.
During the opening of the play, Lewis sets up a meeting with Baker to discuss the possibility of a CBS special that would air on Super Bowl Sunday.
In the special, Baker would have to apologize to Lyle Turner, the man he paralyzed during a game.
The two men discuss football for a short time, as Frank has a game playing on his hotel room television when Lewis arrives. The conversation leads into dinner, money and the real reason Lewis has come: to talk about the CBS special.
This leaves Baker, who is still troubled by the man he left paralyzed on the field all those years ago, asking if he can trust Lewis, a young man who attends an Ivy League School, the “smartest Negro in the room,” Baker says.
Next, their conversation falls from that of numbers and sports to what lies beneath the game of football and if Frank did, in fact, intend on apologizing to Turner for what he had done to him.
When he refuses and his explanation isnotwhatwasexpected,Lewisattempts to hash things out with him and have him reveal why. He gets no further than before, causing the older man to raise his voice and insult him.
Then the two men begin to drink and it is revealed that Lewis is not a CBS representative, but the son of Turner and the meeting is a setup, prompting surprised gasps from the audience.
The plan was to get Baker’s signature and show his father that he could be a good son before it is was too late. Lewis had attended the game that left his father paralyzed and while watching, wore Baker’s game jersey. This leaves Lewis unable to hate Baker or to forgive himself.
He isn’t met with acceptance and another string of arguments begin, ending with Baker showing Lewis how he would hit other players back when he played football for a living.
“The game is about f–king people up,” Baker explains, while punching a fist into his hand.
The two continue to argue, and eventually Lewis stands over a defenseless Baker lying on the floor. This leads to Baker signing the artificial CBS special contract. He then tells Lewis to show his father before it is too late.
Lewis thanks him and leaves for home. Baker is left alone in his hotel room, watching the game from earlier on in the
show. As he cries, the lights go up. At the conclusion of the play, Knight and Hendricks bowed to enthusiastic applause, then left the stage to take a small
break before returning for the Q&A. Students asked questions, such as how did the actors stay humble and what made them want to pursue acting as a career.
When asked what makes “Playing the Assassin” intriguing for them, Knight said Robson wrote such a good script. “It’s just easy to go back and forth because it makes sense,” he said.
The Q&A lasted about 15 minutes and the following meet and greet about eight minutes. A few students rushed to shake hands and learn names first, while others couldn’t get to the front of the line in time.
“Playing the Assassin” was performed for the final time at Delaware Theatre Company Nov. 8, but Robson attended English professor Liz Gray’s creative writing class Nov. 2 to discuss “Playing the Assassin” and his creative process.
“I would hope people don’t just see it as a play about football,” Robson said. “It’s about far more than that.”