“For the Loyal”: Illusion Theater re-opens the case of Jerry Sandusky

“For the Loyal”: Illusion Theater re-opens the case of Jerry Sandusky

What would you do if your husband was an assistant coach at Penn State and came home to tell you he’d just discovered Jerry Sandusky in a compromising situation with a young boy—and that he’d told Joe Paterno, who was “taking care of things”? Lee Blessing’s new play For the Loyal places its central character in a similar situation, then follows her down a number of different paths, none of which seem to yield the satisfying resolution she seeks—and that we seek along with her.

For its first ten minutes, For the Loyal—now on stage at Illusion Theater, in a world premiere production—outlines the contours of a Sandusky-like case with unambiguous horror.

As the lights go up on Dean Holzman’s perilously slanted set, assistant college football coach Toby (Sam Bardwell) is beside himself as he confesses to his wife Mia (Anna Sundberg) that he’s just witnessed what was seemingly the prelude to a sex crime between his colleague Mitch (Garry Geiken) and a young boy (Michael Fell). Head coach Hale (Mark Rosenwinkel) shortly appears to fire Mitch and promote Toby, and Mia’s disturbed to see that Hale openly acknowledges Mitch’s pedophilia, aiming to make Mitch “somebody else’s problem” even as he laments the loss of Mitch’s sidelines savvy.

Mia then takes an unexpected action, and the remainder of the play—presented as a fever dream uninterrupted by intermission—examines the various routes that might have been available to Mia. Should she have gone to the athletic director? To the cops? To the young victim? Sundberg remains onstage essentially for the duration of the play as the other four actors take different roles, exploring various scenarios and questioning Mia’s motives. Can a woman ever really understand—they seem to ask—what goes on among men, old and young, in the locker room and in the back seat?

As my girlfriend noted, For the Loyal hits home in its dramatization of the exclusionary boys’-club interactions that pervade all walks of life—not just Division I football teams. Where the play is less convincing is in its construction of the characters who enact these tragic scenes.

All these men are defensive and unapologetic, rarely giving any intimations that they’ve given the slightest thought to the human stakes involved. Director Michael Robins deftly swirls the male characters around Mia, creating a claustrophobic sense of social conspiracy: there’s nothing she can do, it seems, to break the cycle of abuse. The men are permitted doubt, but doubt that’s merely strategic—not moral.

In the universe of For the Loyal, it’s not about what you choose to do, it’s about what you can get away with. If that’s somewhat simplistic, it also resonates with the reality of the situation that inspired this play, in a manner that’s profoundly unsettling.

Jay Gabler