XsOs II

Two-time Super Bowl Champion Dwight Hicks is one of the stars of ‘X’s and O’s.’

The writers and actors behind a new play coming to Center Stage in Baltimore say they are looking to both illuminate and challenge this country’s love of football.

“X’s and O’s” is written by KJ Sanchez and Jenny Mercein. Mercein is the daughter of former NFL player Chuck Mercein.

The play depicts all the things that are great about the sport, while also examining the toll it takes on players’ bodies. The women wrote the script after interviewing players and their families, fans and medical experts. Sanchez said that there’s lots of information, but she’s worked to make sure it’s not boring.

“That’s the hybrid of this kind of work. It’s one part journalism and two parts artistic frame.”

“We present it in a form that’s very much a spectacle,” Sanchez said. “The production itself aspires to be all the things that we love about a game. There’s a lot of great video, there’s a lot of big music, there’s some choreography and it’s very, very physical. It’s very theatrical so it’s not just talking heads.”

The play premiered at the Berkeley Repertory Theater in California last January, but Sanchez said that the Center Stage production has local touches. She visited local sports bars and interviewed Ravens fans. Some of the characters in the play are based on those fans.

“They talk about M&T Stadium and they talk about going through the whole Ray Rice thing and they talk about how football is a unifier here in Baltimore,” she said.

“It ends specifically with a very beautiful piece that came out of an interview with a Baltimore sports fan who loves the game, sees all the problems with the game from the head injuries to all of the other players getting into trouble and that sort of stuff but also what it gives a city like Baltimore. It’s a complex love letter to the game.”

“My hope is that it leaves the audience with a question they can answer for themselves: Now that we know what we know – is it worth it?”

One of the show’s stars is two-time Super Bowl Champion Dwight Hicks. Hicks played his final season with the 1986 Indianapolis Colts.

Hicks said that he feels some aches and pains from his days on the field, but so far has not experienced some of the serious brain injuries talked about in the play. He said he struggles with the denial that persists about the dangers related to the game.

“The medical industry early on in the 30’s knew that there was a correlation between brain trauma, concussions and as it relates to football, but still people today are feeling like ‘well there’s really not enough to connect the dots.’ That’s what I find disheartening,” he said.

However, knowing what he knows now – he said he would do it all over again.

“Playing it as a young man…has given me a lot as far as learning about life. Struggling, working hard, picking yourself up when you get knocked down. And I know that there’s other ways that you can do that without having to put your brain in jeopardy but that was my journey and I feel that probably, I’d probably play.”

Xs and O’s runs from November 13-December 20 at Center Stage in Baltimore.