Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Namath's no picnic in role, but Kenley crowd didn't care

Cleveland Press June 22, 1971

Joe Namath made his stage debut with the Kenley Players in Akron last night in "Picnic."

The former first string football player is strictly second string as an actor.

He wasn't bad, but he wasn't good either. On the strength of this performance, Broadway Joe isn't likely to male it to Broadway.

But last night's audience couldn't have cared less. They had come to see a celebrity and Joe is every muscular inch just that.

To give Namath credit where credit is due, it should be noted that he knew his lines letter perfect. He didn't fumble once. And he does have a certain amount of stage presence.

But essentially he was playing Joe Namath, not the amoral drifter in William Inge's "Picnic."

He is a good ol' country boy more than anything else, playing the role with a steady grin, bringing it very close to a country yokel characterization.

Subtle, he isn't.

Because of Leslie B. Cutler's strident direction of the production, Namath's performance was not so much at odds with the play as it might have been.

Inge's play is no masterpiece but it's a good play. Better performances and direction have made it seem to be the masterpiece it never was.

"Picnic" is a thin work, a mood piece that needs far gentler handling than it gets here. Some of it is played as though it were broad comedy.

Even the setting -- a couple of back porches in a small Kansas town -- has a sunny, musical comedy look rather than the run down look of shabby gentility the material seems to require.

There is an able cast at work around Namath.

The pretty small town girl he seduces is portrayed with both beauty and intelligence by Madge Owens.

Ann Mitchell as a spinster teacher and Ted Pritchard as her long-time male friend are good enough to almost throw the play out of balance in the subplot that involves them.

But none of this really matters, I suspect. The crowds are out to see Namath and he gives them their money's worth. He grins and at times almost mocks himself in the stage role of an ax-football player and perennial lady's man who can't seem to settle down and make much out of his life.

He will continue in the role in Akron for the rest of the week, then play a week in Dayton and a week in Columbus.

It's a short season and it isn't likely that producer John Kenley will put him out on waivers.