“Tommy and Me” is a lovingly-told tale of perseverance and friendship

Matthew Lamb and William Bednar on stage. William is handing Matthew a football helmet.
Matthew Lamb as young Ray and William Bednar as young Tommy in “Tommy and Me” at Bucks County Playhouse through June 17. Photo by Mark Garvin.

I have never been a football fan. Even though my high school, while I was there, produced two pro players — Joe Theismann and Drew Pearson — the game never interested me. So I did not go into the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope expecting much in their season opener, Tommy and Me. What I found, though, was a touchingly written memoir of playwright and sports reporter Ray Didinger’s lifelong friendship with Philadelphia Eagles star wide receiver Tommy McDonald.

Gordon Clapp, Karl Kenzler, and Matthew Lamb on stage.
Gordon Clapp as Tommy McDonald, Karl Kenzler as Ray, and Matthew Lamb as Young Ray in “Tommy and Me” at Bucks County Playhouse through June 17. Photo by Mark Garvin.

While I may never be a football fan, I now have a better understanding of why those who love the game feel as they do — and I envy them their passion for it.

Ray (Karl Kenzler) is both narrator and participant in the story. His younger self (played by Matthew Lamb at the performance I attended) is from a family of Eagles fans, a walking encyclopedia of names, statistics, history, and trivia about the team his family adores. His favorite player is Tommy McDonald, a five-foot nine inch firecracker who threw himself heart and soul into every game he played, both in three undefeated seasons at the University of Oklahoma and in 12 years on professional teams. Most of that time spent was with the Eagles.

The Didinger family spent summers in Hershey, PA, home of the Eagles’ training camp, where the young Ray finally meets Tommy (William Bednar).

Ray follows Tommy’s career, even after he is traded in 1964 to the Dallas Cowboys, then to other teams until Tommy’s retirement in 1968. Ray grows up to become a sportswriter for Philadelphia newspapers; on one assignment, he goes to interview Tommy McDonald (Gordon Clapp), discovering that his old idol has not yet been inducted into the Football Hall of Fame. Ray takes on the mission of getting Tommy the recognition he deserves from the game he loved so much.

The cast, under the direction of Nick Corley, is superb, and the play, for all that it is about the virtue of perseverance, the strength of friendship, and the value of having a worthy idol at a young age, is also very funny. Much of its humor comes from the interaction between Ray as an adult and as the young fanboy within, and more comes from the older Tommy, as exuberant and outspoken as when he was on the field. All four actors make for a splendid ensemble.

The set, designed by Jack Magaw, is almost bare, with two stools, a bench, and a small table atop a semi-circular platform three steps up from the stage floor and four vertical screens on which Brian Pacelli’s projections are thrown. While sparse, the set helps focus attention on the story and the actors to their advantage.

Tommy and Me is best seen with an audience containing Eagles fans, although even non-football fans like myself are easily drawn into the story and find themselves caring for the characters. It is uplifting without being cloying, humorous without being cheesy, and altogether a joy to see.

William Bednar, Gordon Clapp, Karl Kenzler and Matthew Lamb on stage.
The Cast of “Tommy and Me” (William Bednar, Gordon Clapp, Karl Kenzler and Matthew Lamb) at Bucks County Playhouse through June 17. Photo by Mark Garvin.

You don’t have to be an Eagles fan or a football fan to enjoy Tommy and Me. I can’t think of a better way to spend a late spring evening or afternoon than with Ray Didinger and Tommy McDonald. Go see this play!

Tommy and Me is presented by the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, PA through June 17, 2023. For more information or to purchase tickets, go to bcptheater.org or call 215-862-2121.

Allen Neuner
Allen Neuner is the theater reviewer at Out in Jersey magazine. Jersey born and raised, Allen went to his first Broadway play in 1957 and has been deliriously in love with live theater ever since. Allen has been accepted into the American Theatre Critics Association, a professional organization of theatre journalists. He has been partnered to music reviewer Bill Realman Stella, with whom he is also deliriously in love, for over 20 years. They live in an over-cluttered house in Somerville.