Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk |

Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk

There is a sort of gritty poetry to the Green Bay Packers representing the National Football Conference in today’s Super Bowl against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Not only did the team overcome critical injuries and survive a late season slump, but they also gutted out victories in three straight road playoff games to reach Dallas. It was the kind of season that would have brought a roar of approval from Vince Lombardi, the legendary Packer coach.

And make no mistake, 2010 was the year of Lombardi. An excellent HBO special reminded a new generation of fans of his place atop the pantheon of America’s most iconic sports figures and a Broadway play has only enhanced his mythology.

On a recent snowy night in New York City (aren’t they all this winter?), I went to the Circle in the Square Theatre to see “Lombardi.” I was attracted not just by the subject but also by the presence in the cast of a frequent Aspen visitor, actress Judith Light, who I absolutely adore. Light plays Marie Lombardi, the coach’s wife, opposite Dan Lauria in the title role. While Lauria brought the essence of what the script describes as the most “imperfect perfect man” to life (no small feat), it was Light who made me laugh, made me cry and stole the show. Call me biased and I won’t disagree, but still.

Anyway, I’m writing about Broadway and football in this space, which is normally devoted to wine, because liquor flows through the entire one-hour-and-40-minute performance. The role of cocktails in the characters’ lives is an unmistakable undercurrent.

Early in the play, Vince comes home from his part-time job as a New Jersey bank manager and announces that he is going to quit his passion, his other job as a football coach. As Vince and Marie sip their 5 o’clock cocktails, she admonishes him, telling him he was born to coach, that he loves the game, and that she will forever stand behind her man. Fortunately, the phone rings and Vince is offered the head job in Green Bay, saving the banking industry from the wrath of Lombardi.

The next scene finds Marie in their new home in the frozen tundra. With cocktail always in hand, she leads the audience through the hardships of life for a cosmopolitan New York girl forced into the Midwest, far from the bright lights and the famed Manhattan saloon, Toots Shor’s. The doorbell rings and a reporter from Look Magazine in New York, who has come to chronicle Coach, takes the stage. Marie instantly offers him a cocktail, which he refuses, drawing a disapproving look from Mrs. Lombardi.

When Vince comes home to meet the reporter in a pivotal scene, he bellows, “Marie will you make me an Old Fashioned?” While the rest of the audience was riveted by the conversation between Lombardi and the writer, I followed Light as she crossed the stage to a bar car, the kind found in 1960s living rooms.

First concocted in the 1800s, the Old Fashioned is one of the seminal cocktails. Making a good one is an art that requires focus and attention. Light, though simply an adjunct to the action on the stage in this scene, takes an Old Fashioned glass, drops in a sugar cube, throws down two drops of Angostura bitters and a splash of water, and muddles to perfection. Next she adds a pair of ice cubes, a slice of lemon peel and a jigger of Bourbon. She stirs the cocktail and, with impeccable timing, takes it to her husband and delivers her next line.

It’s an example of an actor who lives the part. Light didn’t need to make the Old Fashioned, but she has become Marie Lombardi for an hour and 40 minutes every night. For me it was the highlight of the play.

There were other examples in the script where liquor plays a part. When Marie and the writer bond, it’s over Martinis. In another scene, the Packer players – Jim Taylor, Paul Hornung and Dave Robinson – let some steam loose in the only bar in Green Bay that Coach will let them frequent. It is noted that Lombardi chose the bar because it allowed both black and white players to eat, drink and play pool.

It should come as little surprise that liquor plays a part in Lombardi. After all, it takes place in a time when America drank cocktails. Drinking is part of the motif of “Mad Men,” a television drama that takes place in the same era. And one of the show’s producers, Tony Ponturo, spent a quarter century in the beer business with Anheuser Busch as the company’s senior ad man.

I may or may not root for the Packers this afternoon, but be sure that kickoff will find me with an Old Fashioned in my left hand.

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