by Ron Cohen · August 16, 2015
Terra Mackintosh, Adam Petchel, Jeff Todesco, and Harrison Chad
The glory, passion and pain -- physical and emotional -- that make up the formidable world of professional football take on an affecting human face in Running Interference. This admirably compact drama, part of the New York International Fringe Festival, also tellingly examines the boundaries of friendship vis-à-vis romantic love and melds its two themes into a surprisingly moving conclusion.
Written by Eric William Morris and Ashley Rodbro, the show centers on three lifelong friends, Jenny and Ben, who have been married for some 15 years, and Ryan, a backup quarterback who has enjoyed a long career with the NFL. Also on hand is the couple’s teenage son, Charlie, who idolizes Ryan. Ben and Ryan were high school football teammates, but Jenny’s untimely pregnancy moved Ben away from football and into a successful business career.
When Ryan unexpectedly descends on Jennie and Ben’s family lake house a week before he says he has to report to training camp, it’s time for affectionate nostalgia and leisurely fun. But it soon becomes apparent that there is “something wrong” with Ryan. In a series of brief sequences, we see him swallowing pills and drinking from a sequestered flask, an attempt to thwart the effects of a series of concussions, even while hearing a voice in his head recounting the hardships and rewards of a football career.
As Ryan’s woes unfold, it forces the friends into an even deeper probing of their long and deep relationship.
The script is loaded with football talk, and while I’m not a guy you’ll find at tailgate parties on the stadium parking lot come Sunday afternoons, it all sounded convincing to me, and arresting as well. It prompted me to search through the program bios of the two authors for some gridiron connections, but I found none. But then, Shakespeare wrote convincingly and endlessly about Italy and never, as far as we know, ever visited it.
The production has been directed with great apparent empathy by Jonathan Judge-Russo, and the extraordinary performances assure that the proceedings avoid any of the soap-opera bathos that could infiltrate the plot.
Jeff Todesco brings a touch of nobility to his involving portrayal of Ryan, which sometimes covers the tremors of desperation with an easy affability. Terra Mackintosh makes Jenny a woman with depths of feeling and great strength behind a sometimes winsome exterior, and Adam Petchel lets us feel Ben’s quiet hurt as he senses the ambivalence of his wife’s feelings for his longtime pal. As the teenage Charlie, Harrison Chad looks somewhat older than he probably should, but the sincerity of his playing and the underlying potency of the production overall quickly fortified my suspension of disbelief.
Among the widely varied types of shows that can define fringe festival programming, Running Interference is a top-notch example of straightforward, compelling and solidly written drama that can only serve to elevate such an event.