X’s and O’s (A Football Love Story)
KJ Sanchez with Jenny Mercein
For the past year or so, newspaper headlines, op-ed columns, and in-depth articles in magazines have been full of the mounting woes of America’s favorite sport, football. We have all read of the early-induced Alzheimer’s, the dangers of repeated concussions, the wife abuses, the drugs, etc. Along comes now a world-premiere, staged docu-drama that frankly only echoes what most of its audience have already been reading. Based on many interviews with former players, coaches, young players, wives of players, medical researchers, and just everyday ‘fanatics’ of the sport, “X’s and O’s” recapitulates in a well-directed, high-production-value manner information that people in this well-read, socially aware audience probably already knew walking into the auditorium.
The actors, including the former 49-er defensive star Dwight Hicks, to a person play their multiple parts extremely well. The TV sports studio set with its many video screens is sharp and attractive. The pace never slows under Tony Taccone’s watchful and expert directive eye. Humor is deftly used at critical points to contrast with the heartfelt glimpses of suffering we hear from players and their loved ones about the mounting health issues and even deaths attributed to a former, football career.
But in the end, this 80-minute production feels way too long. The messages are clear almost immediately, again because we largely already know them. What is missing are stories that draw us in to care about people that we have time to get to know. The popcorn-like appearance of so many different talking heads informs but does not engage the audience. What I wanted was to delve more into the lives of a handful of people affected by football norms and methods of play. What were their choices along the way? How did these events decades ago play out in that time period as well as now? What were they like when not on the football field? Why should I care beyond how I already feel from reading the same stories in the San Francisco Chronicle or Time Magazine?
As a high school assembly program, X’s and O’s might be a worthwhile endeavor. As a main-stage premiere in a community of well-ready, socially aware folks, I think it does not reach its potential of moving us deeper into the story and really engaging us at a meaningul, emotional level.
Rating: 2 E’s