Kathleen Kirk directs Heartland Theatre Company’s thoughtful production of “For the Loyal” by Lee Blessing. It’s a what-if musing based on the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State.
What if someone spoke up? What if someone didn’t? What if someone took justice into his or her own hands? What if your job was on the line for speaking up? What if loyalty to a successful football program trumps all?
Toby (Nick Benson) is an ambitious young assistant football coach at a large Division I school. His plucky wife Mia (Michelle Woody) is seven months' pregnant with their first child.
Toby, somewhat against his better judgment, confesses to her what he’s just seen at the home of head coach Mitch Carlson (Dave Lemmon). In the garage, Toby found the coach stripped down and aroused by a naked 15-year-old boy (Maximilian Beck, double-cast with Will Lovell).
Mia’s outrage is visceral and immediate. Toby is circumspect, wanting to keep that information private until he figures out what to do. Toby doesn’t even want to tell his friend and fellow coaching assistant Tanner Hale (understudy Timothy Olsen on preview night).
When Mitch shows up at their home, Mia confronts him.
From there, the play shifts in and out of both reality and time to play out a kaleidoscopic string of scenarios based on Mia’s thought processes and choices.
Each one leads down a separate path causing each character to respond differently.
Woody does a great job playing, in effect, many different characters. Depending on her choice, she runs the gamut from becoming a sweetly obsequious university staff member to a character so dark there are bloody Lady Macbeth overtones.
Lemmon is believable as a coach who can put forth a winning face, always urging loyalty to the football program. The school fight song, effectively woven into the production, reinforces the loyalty-above-all concept.
The play’s most effective moments include Lemmon explaining in chilling detail just why it is so easy for predators to continue to abuse children. It’s haunting.
And Beck also has a haunting scene in which he explains why a vulnerable 15-year-old boy, with no family support whatsoever, can be so willingly drawn into giving up sex in exchange for things he wants in life and sees no other way to get it.