Thursday, Sept. 18, 2008

Talking With Next Act's Lombardi (pt.2)

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Me: How far did you get into—like I couldn’t imagine that there’d be film footage of this guy holding a set of cards or whatever it is that you have to do . . .

Cecsarini: oh, no. But there are pictures of him behind his bar having the gang over after the game on Sundays. And there’s film footage of him laughing . . . at all functions . . . he’s at the blackboard, he’s diagramming a play. I was watching that a number of times last night. And so you get him as Dave Moranis wrote about him in that great biography which essentially inspired Eric to write the play. The man was all sorts of things. Mist hi/low. He could be anything. And that’s how he worked with his players, too. Anything he could do—whatever way he could come at people—from any psychological direction—he would do that to get them going. He was very complex.

Kishline: He was very shy. I was talking to Jim Irwin a couple of days ago . . . ‘cause I wanted to know some things about Phil Bengston. He said Vince was a very shy man who compensated by being aggressive and blustery. He was not given to easy small talk or convivial chatter unless he new you really, really, really well. And he wanted . . . to keep most of the press as far away as he could for all the obvious reasons. And on the other side of the stick, Phil was the guy who could sit down on the plane back and talk all the way home bout everything.

Me: And yet only one year as head coach.

Kishline: Right. And the assessment was that he was great defensive coordinator and was handed the team. And had to do all the things that that job entailed.

Cecsarini: He had a few years.

Me: As head coach?

Cecsarini: His record was 20 and 21 so that’s at least 2 to 3 years.

Me: Really?

[Incidentally, Cecsarini was right. Bengston served as head coach from 1968 through 1970. I was mistaking Bengston for “Scooter” McLean who served as Packers head coach for one season PRIOR to Lombardi taking over.]

Morgan: And you know, this team was old, too. I think anybody would’ve had a tough time ‘cuz they were old. They were a dynasty that had done their thing.

Cecsarini: And that’s other dramatic material is—how does a leader deal with change? At the start of the play in January of ’65 the league was changing. The AFL was coming into its own. Tons of money was coming into the game. They were in competition with the players out of the draft. So you had—when Donny Anderson and Jim Grbowski were drafted, they had huge contracts—ten times as much as Taylor was getting and Hornung was getting and you could imagine what that might do for descension on the team and Lombardi—through his toughness and overriding belief in teamwork and pride was able to still keep things together in those three years to accomplish what he did in the face of great change. It’s pretty remarkable. And we’re talking about 1965, ’66, ’67 when you’re looking at a cultural change.

Me: The thing that hit me when I was doing research was that ’65 was right before the big championship run, but it was also not long before he passed away. Is there any foreshadowing toward that here?

Morgan: Yes.

Kishline: We an’t tell you everything.

Me: I know. I’ve still got to see the play and review it. But getting back to [the dream sequence] . . . it reads like it could come across as comedy.

Morgan: I think it is. It’s a dramatic comedy . . . a comic drama.

Me: And are you looking to balance out the comedy with the drama?

Morgan: Well, yes. Nobody’s counting . . . but I think to get at the tone is a part of an production—to find what tone. Saw was a big influence her (George Bernard Shaw.) . . . Man and Superman . . . Don Juan In Hell . . . but it’s all about trying to find the right tone—the right key to pitch this in. And there are different characters in the play who are operating in different tones. . . that’s a big part of the second act--it’s a matter of trying to strike the best balance . . . and Vince could be a pretty unpleasant guy at times but the portrait is certainly also affectionate. So striking the balance between making him as unpleasant as he might have been and making him too cuddly. . . and that’s not so much a situation of striking the balance between comedy and drama as it is sort of the entertainment medium and the overall reason for the whole play versus what might be absolute realism in a moment.

Cecsarini: Vince’s journey and experience is a serious one and yet you might think in the context of what else has been on that stage that it’s not as important. It’s not directly about life and death. It’s not about . . . capital punishment . . . and growing up and being bused. It’s about a sports figure. And so he did write a comedy and in a classic sense this is a comedy, it fits the classic definition of a comedy.

Morgan: Well, if A Christmas Carol and The Wizard of Oz are comedies . . . what I think they are is fantasies. I think that’s what this is. I think it has both a dramatic basis and a highly entertaining comic side . . . that keeps coming through and I think it it’s the genre of fantasy. Though he’s realistic and the play begins in that office, it’s fantasy ultimately.

Me: And it moves towards that gradually.

Morgan: After a while. There’s a shift. It’s not so much a gradual shift from our point of view. From the production’s—it’s a big transition.

Cecsarini: And once we’re there, we stay there for a while. And that’s where the issue in Vince’s life get aired out—with the help of these fantastical characters.

Morgan: Yes. The journey begins sooner in The Wizard of Oz and A Christmas Carol, too. But it’s the same kind of relationship of establishing what the real world is like and a fantastical experience or journey and then coming back to reality and there’s some change . . .

Me: So this is set in a very specific time in the mid ‘60’s . . .

Reese Madigan enters the room.

Cecsarini: HE plays John Kennedy

Me: And not just an John Kennedy—Vince Lombardi’s hallucination of John Kennedy.

Morgan: That’s correct. And Paul Hornung. . . Eric Simonson’s hallucination of Paul Hornung.

LAUGHTER

Me: And so it’s set very specifically in that mid-‘60’ feel. How specific it to the feel of the mid ‘60’s?

Morgan: I think he’s got the tone pretty good. He’s got it pretty good in terms of the way Taylor and Hornung and Bengston and Lombardi spoke—in terms of what football was going through at that time. And we’re doing a little bit of that with the music.

Cecsarini: and there are a few topical things here and there to sort of keep us in that era.

Morgan: Right. Viet Nam comes up. The Warren Commission.

Madigan: A kitchen sink comes in . . .

LAUGHTER

Kishline: It’s easier for me because I was there. I remember it very well.

Me: [to Madigan] Did you have a Kennedy before this? Like an impression?

Madigan: When I came and I read for David Morgan, I’d gone online and . . . the thing is it’s easer to ape Kennedy if you’re doing a specific speech. I can figure out ever single tone and inflection and do that exactly, but what I tried to do is get some of him speaking and before Nixon he had a recorder in the Oval Office and there’s a couple of phone calls of him giving people hell around the time of when Ole Miss was being integrated. There was riots and people getting shot and Kennedy trying to defuse it. So I got ahold of that telephone conversation and I listened to that pretty closely. And that’s the great thing you have these days as an actor—you have this thing called Youtube. You can see these people and get these accents. Its amazing.

Morgan: He sounds really good. Y’know, the sound—being good looking ad approximately the right thing y’know—you come to take it on its own terms.

Cecsarini: It’s all in the hair.

Morgan: Yes.

LAUGHTER

Morgan: You need to get that hair trimmed.

Madgan: [in an eerily familiar Kennedy voice] Yes. I need to trim my . . .uhh . . . hair.

Cecsarini: Everybody’s canging their hair [for the show]

Morgan: I’m not. [because he’s bald, evidently]

LAUGHTER

Maigan: But that’s the trap, too. If you’re just doing this voice everybody kind of knows—if it’s not irected toward an end, then it’s just—you’re really just playin’ house up there, so you’ve gotta get that guy, then you’ve got to apply it to the stor and what you’reactually trying to do with it.

Morgan: And it’s funny, too. Eric plays with that—what we know about Kenedy—Kennedy’s relationship with women. He has fun with that. And then there’s fun with the doubling of characters—something he says in the one character tat reflects back on the other. Some of the audience will get some of that stuff and some won’t. But it’s layering. The doubling of the characters is thematic in a way, too.

Next Act's Lombardi: The Only Thing runs though October 26th at the Off-Broadway Theatre.

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