By Paige Shermis
Flag on the play: Manning Manning Manning, the story of one of football’s great dynasties, written and directed by Grace Gardner ’13, boasted solid acting and high energy, but was ultimately perplexing in terms of what themes it was trying to convey.
Staged in a packed Horn Gallery, with some of the crowd seated on the floor, some on chairs and some on a wooden platform, the show began with three cheerleaders extolling the value of competition.
Indeed, competition was rife in this show, in the form of the three Manning brothers, Cooper, Peyton and Eli, who all try to best each other on the field in order to impress their star quarterback father, Archie.
Red streamers with hints of blue draped the stage, symbolizing Ole Miss (the University of Mississippi), Archie’s alma mater; one of the three cheerleaders was Olivia (Dyer Pierce ’14), the future mother of the boys. The other two cheerleaders, Florie (Phoebe Rotter ’14) and Larkin (Allie Lembo ’14) form the Greek chorus, in turn playing Olivia’s friends, the opposing football teams and Peyton’s and Eli’s future wives. The choreography the three displayed was strong and, at points, fun; the audience burst into peals of laughter when Florie and Larkin urged Olivia to “Push push-push-push, push-push! Breathe! Breathe!” as she gave birth to each of her sons.
The show quickly jumped from Olivia as a cheerleader to her married life with Ole Miss football quarterback Archie (Issa Polstein ’15). Olivia hoped for a daughter, named Ellie, who would be spared the brutalities of football, but in rapid succession she gave birth to three sons: Cooper (Elliot Cromer ’15), Peyton (real-life football player Brett Williams ’13), and the baby of the family, named after Olivia’s longed-for daughter, Eli (Will Quam ’14). The acting displayed by all three of the Manning boys was superb. Cromer played Cooper with a goofily charming sensibility, particularly hilarious as a onesie-clad whining baby when Peyton is born. Stone-faced Williams successfully made Peyton seem the deadpan star of the family. Quam also entertained as Eli, with Forrest Gump-type speech patterns and a shy manner. This was a confusing choice, however, for non-football fans, who were likely left wondering if this persona was meant to mimic Eli’s real-life elocution or show off the director’s satirical side.
The role of Archie ﾗ who is the subject of much veneration from his sons ﾗ could have been expanded upon. He was referred to as the head of the mythical House of Archie, the leader of a football dynasty, but it was tragic that he had next to no lines.
Pierce exuded impeccable maternal grace as Olivia, but the play glossed over her courtship with Archie and transitioned to her first pregnancy so quickly that it was hard to tell if she was capable of more than mothering.
Manning brought up interesting themes, but fleshed out none of them, and the 45-minute show could have allowed for generous additions to the script.
The show, in the end, was muddled and murky. Was it a biographical work on the Manning family, a commentary on the toll professional sports take on the body and spirit, a play about the reverence sons have for their fathers, the determination mothers have in raising their sons or all of the above?
Gardner took on an interesting premise, but the short show was a Hail Mary. When viewed as the first act of a play, as Gardner intended, however, Manning stands as a funny and promising segment of a larger work.