"Lombardo" at the Fine Arts Association
Kathy Sandham, photographer
Kathy Sandham, photographer
I prefer history, biography, non-fiction. I like to know how things happened, how people worked together in the process of creation. While I am leery of the great-man theory, I do like reading about individuals who were motivated to effect their surroundings, to make a difference. Even an evil difference.
Books are great, especially a well-researched tome, even one with an agenda. But just the facts, please, not the facts as you would like to see them.
Historical films are dodgy, though I accept those for what they are, entertainment inspired by fact.
But the plays are killing me.
The recent past has introduced countless plays based on historic figures. The reason for this is purely financial. It’s certainly not artistic.
Any theater has a core of supporters who will see whatever you do, be they subscribers or people who like theater and buy single tickets for a variety of plays at a variety of houses.
For a play to truly succeed at the box office, especially in regional theater, it must attract those in the community who do not normally choose theater as something to do. How do you do that? You have to be very clear about what it is they are going to see.
Recent developments in play production include the Book-On-Stage: adaptations of classic (i.e., public domain) works, vastly abridged, with as few characters as possible so as not to inflate the budget. I want to say that some of these make for great theater, but I can’t think of one.
The biographic drama provides greater freedom of imagination, because instead of sticking to the proscribed plot of a novel, the playwright can focus on a pivotal moment in one famous person’s life and can be imaginative in telling it. Facts are important, true … but not too important, especially when the facts themselves have morphed into legend. The playwright can either print the legend, or subversively champion the actual truth.
Or, you know, the truth as they see it.
Sometimes you get a pretty good play, like John Logan’s Red. Sometimes you get a very bad play, like Eric Simonson’s Lombardi. The former is a rumination on art and commerce that happens to utilize the painter Mark Rothko, the latter a recitation of facts about Vince Lombardi designed to appeal to people who are really into Vince Lombardi.
Like many bio-dramas, these both use a completely non-distracting fictional character as a sounding board for the actor playing the great man at the center of the work to create their iconic performance of this historical figure.
The difference is, the young cipher in Red is an aspiring artist, one who can learn from the master. It is also a very well-written play, exciting to watch in each of the productions I have seen. The playwright attempts to include backstory for this young artist in the form of a tale of his parents’ murder. It feels like an attempt to make the play not just about Rothko … but why?
The interlocutor in Lombardi is a reporter. A REPORTER. Someone whose job it is to ask questions. I mean, Jesus. Really. That’s all I have to say about that.
Except, it’s not. Shortly after watching the show (my seven year-old most liked to video projections of actual football games) I sat down and wrote a ten-minute play called LOMBARDO. The exercise was to see if I could write a short play about a pivotal moment in the life of Guy Lombardo based entirely on information I could find on Wikipedia.
It was not my intention to have it produced, but when I saw the Fine Arts Association put out a call for plays for their bi-annual short plays festival, I just sent it. I never even revised it. I was so pleased when it was chosen, one of only two works from the Cleveland area represented in the eleven brief scenes. The whole family went to see it opening night.
Written as it was in a fit of complete ass-holery, I was still concerned about how Lombardo would be received. Knowing absolutely nothing about the company who would produce it, I was unaware of my special brand of dry, absurdist satire was comprehensible, or whether it would be well-executed.
I am very happy to report that my slight piece of snark was played straight and swift. Afterwards, Ray Griesmer (Guy Lombardo) told me about his challenges in creating the character, searching for recordings of Lombardo on YouTube for him to emulate, and his disappointment in Guy Lombardo’s complete non-presence as a person. He chose instead to be irascible and boisterous, which is how I had actually written him. I was thinking in the voice of Vince Lombardi when I wrote it, anyway.
From the moment the lights came up on our charming, personality-free narrator with his horn-rimmed glasses and ready steno pad, I knew and appreciated the time and detail director Ann Hedger and her crew had put into my little work. Thanks, folks!
The Fine Arts Association 18th Annual One Act Festival Hot from the Oven: Smörgåsbord