By Michael Buzzelli
It’s not the opponents on the football field that take down “Iron Mike” Webster (Ernesto Mario Sánchez), but the undiagnosed Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disorder linked to repeated head impacts, that brings down the Hall of Famer in “12:52: The Mike Webster Story.”
When Webster retreats to Wisconsin after formally announcing his retirement in Kansas City, he can’t quite adjust to domestic life with his wife, Pam (Kauleen Cloutier). He has hare-brained get-rich-quick schemes and wild theories about the Kennedy Assassination. To top it off, he’s having deranged visions of his former teammate Terry Bradshaw (Paul Guggenheimer).
Sonny Jani (Arjun Kumar) finds the Steelers player sleeping on a bench at the train station. Jani realizes that Mike Webster’s autograph is worth a fortune to collectors and brings the Steel Curtain Center to his sports and memorabilia shop in McKees Rocks, but the head trauma is causing friction between Webby and Jani.
While not a spoiler, per se, as it is practically public knowledge to Steeler fans, the undiagnosed disease ultimately it takes his life.
After Dr. Bennet Omalu (Wali Jamal), a forensic neuropathologist, examined Iron Mike’s brain tissue during the autopsy, Webster became the first former NFL player diagnosed with CTE.
Sanchez is engaging as the famous footballer. He plays Webster as amiable charming, thick-headed and proud. It’s a sympathetic portrayal.
Another duo to watch is Sanchez and Kumar. They are electric in their scenes together. The grit in Webster and Jani’s friendship is sand in the oyster for the two actors, creating pearls in their scenes.
Charles David “Stoney” Richards shows up as Steelers owner Dan Rooney. It’s a grounded performance. Richards plays the part with equal parts of stoicism and sympathy. His sonorous voice gives gravitas to the part.
Jamal does a fine performance spouting off a myriad of medical terminology as Dr. Omalu, and, in a complete 180, the actor provides the voice of Myron Cope. Yoi and Double Yoi! It’s a nostalgic and hilarious.
Director Marcus Muzopappa gets at the humor in the “12:52 – The Mike Webster Story,” but, more importantly, he gets at the heart of it.
Dr. Randall Benson and Ross Howard’s tale about the former footballer is a sad one, but it is intriguing. It’s just a little longer than it needs to be (by twenty minutes or so). Their need for accuracy causes a few repetitive moments in the show that could easily be excised in future productions. Ultimately, “12:52 – The Mike Webster Story” is a story worth telling.
Lower your Terrible Towel at half-mast, and raise a Iron City for Iron Mike.
“The Mike Webster Story” runs from June 16th – 25th at the Madison Arts Center, 3401 Milwaukee Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15219. For more information, click here.