By Audra Baakari Boyle
When preparing for a play an actor generally has the artistic freedom of developing a character from a piece of fiction the playwright has written. That was not the case with the Players current play, “Lombardi” by Eric Simonson. Vince Lombardi was a real person and to many Wisconsinites, a legend.
Preparing for “Lombardi” at Peninsula Players was a fun, exciting, yet a very daunting experience.
“We have to get it right,” artistic director Greg Vinkler would often say at the lunch table and in production/designers’ meetings.
Being close to Green Bay and the home of the Packers, the company has taken advantage of its proximity to the Packer Hall of Fame and other resources.
The cast of “Lombardi” took a field trip to Lambeau Field and toured the Packer Hall of Fame. Actor Neil Friedman, who plays Vince Lombardi, even had a chance to sit at Vince’s desk. Brandon Dahlquist who plays Paul Hornung, Donte Fitzgerald who plays David Robinson and James Fletcher who plays James Taylor all visited the Packer Experience and read up on the legendary Packers they play.
Last week Neil spoke at the Saturday Seminar on his preparation for the role. Neil has been a Packer fan since he was a boy. Six years ago he played Vince in the first readings and workshops playwright Eric Simonson and author David Maraniss held for the show. Neil also visited with the original Packer Golden Girl, Mary Jane Sorgel who had many encounters with Vince.
“I’ve been waiting six years to play this role,” Neil says. And he does, with gusto. Even Marty Lash of the Door County Advocate agrees, “The part calls for strong, forceful acting and Friedman nails it perfectly.”
Neil isn’t the only actor Marty compliments. He also said Carmen Roman had “unmistakable warmth” as Marie, and that is what Susan Lombardi, Vince’s daughter, thought too. Susan felt the Players production had more emotion; that the production focused on the story telling compared to the Broadway production.
But the actors weren’t the only ones doing their research. Scenic designer Keith Pitts, costume designer Kärin Simonson Kopischke and props designer Sarah Ross all did their research as well.
When the audience sees Vince’s office on stage, it looks like Vince’s office in real life. Sarah hunted for the right furniture, and when she couldn’t find the right desk, she built one. She also re-upholstered the office furniture to match those at the Packer Hall of Fame.
Kärin even visited with Packer historian Tom Pigeon, who wrote several books on the Packers, to confirm what the players would have worn on the practice field in 1965. She wanted her costumes designs to be authentic, and they are.
All of the research paid off. The Green Bay Press Gazette calls “Lombardi” solid. But just don’t take the word of the critics; you’ll have to decide for yourself. Join us by the bay through Oct. 14 while the larger-than-life “Lombardi” is with us. Or join us for one of our Saturday Seminars Sept. 22 or 29. Phone the box office for topic information at 920-868-3287 or visit our website at www.peninsulaplayers.com for information on tickets to “Lombardi.” I look forward to seeing you by the bay, where the curtain rises and the pre-show bonfire burns brightly when weather permits.