“For the Loyal” is a provocative little play that moves beyond kitchen-sink realism and into flights of imagination to examine the moral choices and complexity of sexual abuse — and our response to the crime.
Playwright Lee Blessing used the real-life case of Jerry Sandusky, the Penn State football coach who was accused of assaulting young boys. The testimony of an assistant coach who saw Sandusky in a shower with a youngster was crucial in obtaining a conviction and also in exposing a coverup aimed at protecting the fabled college football program.
In Blessing’s play, which had its world premiere Friday at Illusion Theater in Minneapolis, actor Sam Bardwell plays an angsty young coach who can’t help but tell his wife (Anna Sundberg) the mind-blowing news that he saw a legendary offensive coordinator in a compromising situation with a naked lad.
This confession is the catalyst in transforming the wife, Mia, into the play’s agent of change. Through Mia, Blessing imagines blunt and well-articulated scenarios that contain consequences and choices for someone who holds volatile knowledge.
Blessing refuses to make Mia a hero as he writes evenhanded arguments and fanciful moments that play out to ugly conclusions. His structure in this sharp 80-minute work is reminiscent of “A Body of Water,” a 2005 play that kept audiences constantly off balance with shifting explanations and realities. There is a sense of suspense that ticks away in the playwright’s concise and sharp writing.
For this instrument to work, Blessing has kept character development to a minimum. These people are a bit Greek, swung by fate. Nonetheless, director Michael Robins draws supple and honest portrayals from his cast.
Sundberg’s Mia carries an air of puzzlement as Blessing shifts her realities. Even in accusations and with a clear air of strength, Sundberg mutes any self-righteousness. Her portrayal allows Mia to experience fresh the damnation and honest conviction of her actions.
Michael Fell plays several young men, all with subtle but important differences, in a good bit of acting. Mark Rosenwinkel plays the team’s head coach in a characterization that is more Officer Krupke than Joe Paterno. He is likable in the way a very successful coach must be — tough in defense of the program and willing to make Faustian deals to keep that program going.
Garry Geiken plays the offending coach (is that why he’s an offensive coordinator?) as someone who has gone to seed and seems comfortable with the choices he has made. He and Sundberg trade bristling accusations in scenes that are directed with crisp urgency and snap by Robins.
Blessing has taken on a touchy subject and resisted a stereotypical approach. He plays with time and traverses mental space and imagination in a sharp instrument of exploration.