Ray Didinger doesn’t have to prove he can tell a story. He’s been doing a magnificent job at that as a reporter for local newspapers and a commentator for Comcast SportsNet and WIP (94.1 FM). Didinger can speak on any sports topic, but the game that brought him fame and lasting attention is football. TOMMY & ME is a lovely and elegiac look at how Didinger’s love for football developed — family tradition, discussions in his grandfather’s Southwest Philly bar — and his early admiration for one of the earliest of Eagles stars, Tommy McDonald.
Although there are scenes with dramatic heft and value, TOMMY & ME in its finished form (or current draft, because I think there’s future life in it), smacks more of storytelling than playwriting. Matt Pfeiffer, as the adult Ray Didinger narrates much of what happens. Scenes intersperse with his talking, but it is the talking that propels the piece. It explains a lot while sequences with Tom Teti as the retired McDonakl add depth, interjections by Simon Kiley as the young (child) Ray Didinger adds humor and fun, and appearances by Ned Pryce as McDonald in his playing years add heart.
In the long run, the narrative nature of the piece doesn’t matter, Didinger is so good, and received enough coaching from director Joe Canuso and consultant Bruce Graham, he keeps all that you hear compelling. Pfeiffer certainly aids in this. Kiley and especially Pryce are excellent, but the theatrical honors go to Tom Teti, who finds a line and a spirit for McDonald and holds it in a way the gives TOMMY & ME texture and a character with dimension.
Teti never makes you feel as if an actor is talking to you. He delves into McDonald’s character and gives you someone, and something, to watch, that goes beyond narration. Teti also scores with the Hall of Fame acceptance speech Didinger uses to frame his presentation.
All satisfies, and that what counts. Especially, if like me, and I think Tom Teti, you share Didinger’s adulation for Tommy McDonald, who never failed to make an Eagles game exciting in the years when I was first learning to appreciate football.
[FringeArts, 140 N. Columbus Boulevard] August 3-14, 2016; theatreexile.org.