Kinnick: The Play

Sept. 1, 2006

Editor’s Note: The following was written by Jennifer Bissell, a senior from Pewaukee, Wis., who is majoring in Journalism and Sports Studies at the UI.

Capturing the essence of Iowa’s Golden Boy is no easy task. Yet somehow Jackson Doran is able to bring Nile Kinnick back to life in a new play about Iowa’s only Heisman Trophy winner.

A collaboration of the UI Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, Riverside Theatre and Hancher Auditorium with a cast of seven, “Kinnick” details the great football player and war hero’s last four years using diary entries, letters to family, film and radio jingles.

Director and playwright Bruce Wheaton introduces the audience to Kinnick the man more than Kinnick the icon through a fictional radio broadcast detailing both his personal and his public life from 1939, the year he received the Heisman, to his untimely death in an air crash over the Pacific in 1943.

Beyond the improbable 1939 season in which the Hawkeyes went 6-1-1 and Kinnick rose to athletic prominence, Wheaton portrays a man struggling to find his identity after his collegiate football career ends. The challenge of deciding among law school, going into business or serving his country plays out in Kinnick’s missives home and his private journals.

Film clips take the audience back in time, showing Hollywood glamour, that amazing Iowa football season and the state of the country before World War II. Doran then makes his first appearance as Kinnick, a humble yet [commanding??? striking???] character.

John Charles Daly (played by Riverside co-director Ron Clark) is the radio narrator introducing the “Corn Belt Comet,” whose Heisman acceptance speech earned him a national reputation as an all-American. The fictional American Cavalcade Show, placed a month after Kinnick perished in an airplane crash on June 22, 1943, shows how heroism and celebrity were intertwined in the words of Kinnick’s friends and teammates and the writings of a gossip columnist and sports commentator.

Interspersed throughout the radio show are commentaries by Frances Kinnick, Nile’s mother (played by Jody Hovland, Riverside’s other co-director), who reminds the audience how much more there was more to Nile than the man on the field. Excerpts from the son’s letters to his mother reveal Kinnick’s readiness to help others, his goals for leading a good and moral life and his desire to make his country proud.

At the end of the 80-minute production, shown to its first substantial audience at the final dress rehearsal Thursday night, spectators are left wondering what might have been had the man behind the No. 24 jersey survived the war .

Wheaton, a former U of I staff member, was invited to write and direct the play as a way to show why the university stadium bears Kinnick’s name, according to Rick Klatt, UI associate athletic director of external affairs. The production is part of the festivities capping the two-year, $89 million renovation of Kinnick Stadium. The rededication of the stadium and unveiling of a 14-foot statue of Kinnick is on Friday at 4 pm at the Krause Family Plaza, and the football game against Montana kicks off at 11 am Saturday morning.

“Kinnick” runs Friday, Sept. 1 at 7:30 pm, Sept. 2 at 5 pm and Sept. 3 at 2 pm at Hancher Auditorium. Tickets are available at the Hancher Box Office. Tickets are $30 for adults and $10 for children a