Theater review: 'Bronx Bombers' 2.5 stars
If a play about the Yankees is going to be produced in New York, you can bet that it'll be extremely sentimental and nostalgic. After all, would Yankee fans really want it served up any other way?
Eric Simonson's "Bronx Bombers," his third play about sports figures (following "Lombardi" and "Magic/Bird"), is undoubtedly the most enjoyable work in this series.
Compared to "Take Me Out," Richard Greenberg's flawed but hard-hitting exploration of a gay baseball player and his teammates from a decade ago, Simonson's plays, which have been co-produced with the NFL, NBA and now MLB and the Yankees themselves, are unapologetically unchallenging.
"Bronx Bombers" opens in 1977, with worried coach Yogi Berra (Richard Topol) attempting to mediate a truce between hotshot Reggie Jackson (Francois Battiste), team captain Thurman Munson (Bill Dawes) and wild manager Billy Martin (Keith Nobbs).
This leads to a stranger, more interesting dream dinner-party sequence uniting Mickey Mantle (Dawes), Elston Howard (Battiste), Babe Ruth (C.J. Wilson), Lou Gehrig (John Wernke), Joe DiMaggio (Chris Henry Coffey) and Derek Jeter (Christopher Jackson). The play closes at the old stadium.
Fans are bound to have strong opinions on the extent to which the actors physically resemble the players, but they're bound to enjoy the play. While hardly a masterpiece, "Bronx Bombers" is like a tenderhearted frolic through memory lane with a touch of surrealism and a lot of personality.
Simonson, who directed the play himself, provides a serviceable in-the-round staging that ought to easily fit into Circle in the Square should it transfer to Broadway.
And let's face it: Seeing actors portray famous Yankees can be a guilty pleasure, even for New Yorkers with only a passing familiarity with baseball. These guys are genuine pop icons.
If you go: "Bronx Bombers" plays at the Duke through Oct. 19. 229 W. 42nd St., 646-223-3010, Dukeon42.org.