Theater & Performing Arts
Through March 1
Despite football’s immense popularity (114 million people watched the latest Super Bowl), it seems like almost every week some new scandal befalls the game — whether it’s Deflategate, Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée in the face, or, as Berkeley Rep’s (2025 Addison St.) fantastic show X’s and O’s (A Football Love Story) illuminates, just how common it is for its players to experience traumatic, life-altering brain injuries. For the documentary-style production, Jenny Mercein (whose father is Chuck Mercein, of Green Bay Packers fame) and playwright KJ Sanchez conducted more than fifty interviews with players both past and present, as well as families, neurologists, coaches, fans, and other experts. And indeed, much of the play’s dialogue comes verbatim from said interviews. Adding to the stories are a timeline of the NFL’s history (which is quite riveting, despite being peppered with misogyny, racism, and Teddy Roosevelt’s weird speeches about virility), as well as video montages and a subplot involving three football fans and their heated, differing viewpoints. Even the “Monday Night Football” theme song makes an appearance. With the help of Tony Taccone’s fluent direction, a slick, ESPN-type set design, and a short runtime (85 minutes), X’s and O’s paints a complicated portrait of both the light and dark sides of the sport.