“Playing The Assassin” Looks at Violence in the NFL

A timely show at Penguin Repertory Theatre

BY GEORGE J. DACRE

They call it “the gutsiest” theatre and Penguin Rep in Stony Point comes up with another gutsy production, based on the real life story of professional footballer Jack Tatum, who played for the Oakland Raiders more than 40 years ago and was known for his tough hits. The central character of the play is named Frank Baker, but is based on Tatum.

In 1978, in a preseason game with the New England Patriots, Tatum hit wide receiver Daryl Stingley and the force of the tackle severely damaged Stingley’s spinal chord, leaving him a quadriplegic. The New York Times reported no penalty flags were thrown and Tatum was not disciplined.

In “Playing The Assassin,” NFL football player Frank Baker, played by actor Ezra Knight, says of his tackle of Lyle Turner, “I did what they expected me to do, what they demanded I do. I did my job.”

Turner winds paralyzed and to life in a wheelchair. Baker gets interviewed by a young man, named Louis, who wants Baker to appear on a pre-Super Bowl show with the man he hit and to apologize.

It turns out that Louis is the son of Lyle Turner. What follows is violence on stage at Penguin with Baker and Louis challenging each other over terms of a contract for the proposed interview and ultimately fist-fighting each other (staged by fight choreographer Christopher Plummer). This is exciting theatre, dramatic and hardhitting.

Baker claims he also was a victim of the hard hitting tackle, being ostracized and banned from football. Garrett Le Hendricks plays Turner’s son and between he and Ezra Knight there are sparks in not only acting but in dialogue. While the current day issues of domestic violence between NFL players and women have no part of this production, the violence of the sport, the concussions that occur almost every week and the NFL’s slowness in taking whatever action they can is the focus in the minds of the viewers.

But what does it says when you can view 100,000 or more every week on NFL’s Sunday, Monday, Thursday Football Games Of The Week. “Playing The Assassin” written by David Robson is a Four out of Four Star production. Catch it at Penguin Rep Thursdays through Sundays.

Call penguinrep.org or 845-786-2873.