Director Gregg T. Daniel returns to The Group Rep to direct Eric Simonson’s critically acclaimed play LOMBARDI based on the book When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi by Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Maraniss. In our conversation, Gregg talks about the play, his fascination with the nature of greatness, and what he’s been up to as a director.
By Steve Peterson
When did you take an interest in directing?
While I was in college, I worked for a number of years as a counselor at a summer performing arts program in East Harlem. The program provided neighborhood youth classes in Art, Music, Dance & Drama. I was in charge of the Drama Division. The program culminated in a fully mounted production utilizing all of the departments. One year, the program director asked me to direct the stage production. After that, I was hooked, the challenge of bringing various disciplines together into a cohesive whole thrilled me.
What was the first play you directed and how did it go (or what did you learn from the initial experience)?
I believe the first play I directed was the musical, “The Me Nobody Knows.” It was an enormous amount of fun working with a musical director, a choreographer and a scenic artist. We were all very young and thankfully were willing and open to learn from each other.
How did your directing of the Group Rep’s production of LOMBARDI come about?
I’ve developed a very fulfilling artistic association with the Group Rep. GRT’s Co-Artistic Director, Larry Eisenberg continues to invite me back and is willing to consider material I’m interested in. Lombardi is my fourth product with GRT. I was watching the sports channel ESPN one night and stumbled on a two part documentary about Vincent Lombardi. I was fascinated by the man and his accomplishments. I remembered there had been a play on Broadway a few years prior about Lombardi. I acquired Eric Simonson’s script and brought it to Larry.
In addition to being a working actor, you also directed plays for Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble, a company you co-founded. What plays did you direct for LDTE and tell us a bit about how they relate to the mission of the LDTE Company?
A central part of LDTE’s mission statement is mounting material, “through the lens of the artist of color.” We look for plays that explore stories of the Black Diaspora. For LDTE, I’ve directed, “Three Sisters After Chekhov” by Mustapha Matura. It’s an adaptation of Chekov’s work set in1941 Colonial era Trinidad. The play is a wonderful reimagining of the original work with people of color squarely at its center. I’ve also directed, “Elmina’s Kitchen” by Kwame Kwei-Armah, a powerful work set in London’s East End about three generations of black men within an immigrant family.
You recently directed the well received, award-winning production of WEDDING BAND for Antaeus where you are a company member. How did that rarely seen play come to be a part of Antaeus’ season?
My wife, Veralyn Jones is also a member of the Antaeus Company. She brought the play in. We’ve both admired the work for a long time and longed to see it revived. Antaeus encourages its members to bring in material they’re passionate about and arrange a reading for company members. If there’s enough interest in the work, the play may receive a staged reading open to the public. WEDDING BAND went through that process. Ultimately, the Artistic Directors decided it was a work which the company wanted to produce.
What do you see as possibly being a challenge with the direction of Lombardi?
It’s hard to present a play about sports on stage especially a sport as physical as football. When you’re in a football stadium, there is a visceral reaction to the sights and sounds around you. It’s intoxicating. I want to bring some of that athleticism of the players and the excitement of the game to a stage production.
What do you want the audience to take away with them having seen the play?
I’m interested in the play as a look at the nature of greatness. What are the unique ingredients which breed greatness in a person? I’d like the audience to possibly reflect on not only what they find great in others but in themselves as well.
What’s up next for you as an actor and/or as a director?
Next up I’m directing a production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, FENCES by August Wilson. I’ll be at the International City Theatre in Long Beach. It’s been 30 years since the play’s initial production at the Yale Repertory Theatre. It’s also the theatre’s 30th anniversary season.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about the play LOMBARDI that you would like people to know?
You don’t have to be a football fan to enjoy LOMBARDI, it’s a story anyone can enjoy. Additionally, Lombardi’s wife Marie figures prominently in the play. She was the glue that kept Lombardi and their family together. He may not have attained the greatness he did, if it hadn’t been for the determination of Marie Lombardi.
LOMBARDI runs July 24 – Sept. 6. Fridays & Saturdays 8PM. Sunday Matinees 2PM. Appropriate for ages 12+. Admission: $25. Buy Tickets/Info: www.thegrouprep.com or (818) 763-5990. Lonny Chapman Theatre 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood 91601.
The cast includes the talents of Bert Emmett, Christopher Hawthorn, Julia Silverman, Ian Stanley, Steve West and Troy Whitaker.