PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Bronx Bombers — Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

By Harry Haun
07 Feb 2014

Billy Martin (Keith Nobbs, a fairly recent convert to the pinstripes) concurred: "When we did the show Off-Broadway, they didn't have Billy in that last section of The Immortals when they come out at the very end. Then, they finally decided to put Billy in, and it really is amazing. When you put on those pinstripes, something really does happen to you. You feel part of history, and you feel part of a legacy."

Chris Henry Coffey and Bill Dawes
photo by Monica Simoes

Joe DiMaggio (Chris Henry Coffey) vowed that he would never climb back into "that pinstriped monkey suit" when he retired, so he's the last to suit up in the play. "There's a real change that happens to you physiologically, I think, when you put the uniform on," Coffey contended. "I strangely feel like I have played every time that I come off stage. It's a bizarre feeling. We've all talked about it, actually."

"Can you imagine the girls I could pick up with Mickey Mantle's uniform?" proffered Bill Dawes, who pops up a bit woozy in the second act as Mantle. "I didn't want it to be cartoonish, but, for a man who lived like him, five drinks — if he came in with a couple — are enough to get in a place where he makes some bad decisions. I didn't want him to be sloppy. I wanted him to be a man who could still carry himself, but it's enough that he might do things he'd regret that he wouldn't do if he were sober." 

Dawes spends the first act as hard-nosed manager Munson, trying to not let his antagonism toward Jackson tip Yogi's delicate peace-making mission. "The first and second acts are very different pieces," he pointed out. "The first scene is just a straightforward, four-people-in-a-hotel-room scene and all the drama and all the different arguments going on. It's like an acting-class scene where there are big stakes."

Nobbs and Dawes are beginning to think of Circle in the Square as "Circle in the Simonson." They did his Lombardi there when it was a football field, and now it's a baseball field.

"You know what's interesting about the space?" offered Simonson. "For Lombardi, it looked like a football field. Now you go in there, because it's a baseball play, you just know you're in a stadium. It's oval-shaped, but it's still in the round."

"I love that theatre," Dawes said. "I love acting in the round. It's freedom for an actor because you can kinda exist in space." Nobbs seconded that and raised him one: "It's my favorite theatre in New York. There's something about the energy of it that all pours into the center, and it feels so intimate because the seats are all spread out."

As the highly combustible Martin, Nobbs is the first firecracker to go off in the play.

"I really love his passion because you see a side of Billy that's fiery and crazy, but also Billy's fighting the good fight for the game he believes in, and he has such a legitimate point of view in terms of how you have to be part of a team. I love telling the truth about that, and also, as an actor, trying to tell the truth about the chaos that's going on inside of him. He was paranoid, but it was because he had such tremendous feeling. To try to tell that without commenting on it was the trick."

Coming down from On High to do battle with testy wire-terrier Martin is a diva-like Jackson, played with assurance and arrogance to spare by Francois Battiste, who drew exit applause on opening night. "Tonight," he said, "is a culmination of a lot of emotions. We, as actors, are just trying to deliver the story like any other night, and we're riding on so much emotion because it was a long haul for this particular play."

He knew the person to credit for the crackling good time he has on stage. "That's Eric Simonson," he said. "Eric Simonson wrote some very taut dialogue and can create a conflict on stage. That's why people go to the theatre ultimately: To see somebody try to work a problem out. These guys all believe that they're right, and it just so happens to be in the framework of the Yankees in a baseball play."