It’s something few people know she’s doing. A few moments before going on stage, Angela Iannone prays: “Let me be the vessel for the talent that you’ve given me. Let me acknowledge that gift and be present so that I can open myself so that I can do what you have gifted me to do.”
A practicing Catholic and member of Divine Providence Parish, Milwaukee, who prefers worshipping at the St. Casimir site “because I like the plaster saints. I love all the symbols. I love the incense. I love the bleeding saints. I love the panoply. I’m a theater person and Roman Catholicism is the greatest theater in the world,” Iannone is currently playing the role of Marie Lombardi, in “Lombardi” at The Rep.
Written by Eric Simonson and based on the book “When Pride Still Mattered” by David Maraniss, “Lombardi” is a composite of Vince Lombardi’s years as Packer head coach and general manager. There and elsewhere, his wife was an integral part of his life.
“I hope you wouldn’t do (“Lombardi”) without Marie because I don’t think it would be very interesting,” Iannone said. “Any play is an attempt to humanize something that we’re trying to understand. You begin with the task of how do we understand Vince Lombardi?”
Marie, partner in winning
She noted that one of the characters says he wants to find out what it is about Lombardi that makes him win.
“Marie was a part of that. How she helped them set up their life was part of the thing that made him able to win. You have to find your own rulebook – Catholicism,” the actress said. “They used the guideposts: strong marriage, no affairs, no dalliances, no separations even. If he was absent, or she was depressed, there was never any question that one was going to leave the other because the problems were insurmountable…. They were going to be there for each other no matter what.”
Vince’s ‘ministry of love’
For Iannone, one of Vince’s strongest messages was what she termed “his own personal ministry of love.”
“He loves the men he works with; not just that you have a fondness for the people you work with, but he truly, truly loved them,” she said.
Marie, according to Iannone, not only had to deal with Vince’s distance as husband and father, but “to find a way to include 60-some people in her marriage. Or it was going to fail.”
“For her the challenge was to understand what that meant and to include herself. She was the buffer between his players and him. She was the only one who could talk to him and change his mind. She seems to have been quite on top of her game about trying to help him continue to be kind,” Iannone said.
Acknowledging that she wasn’t sure whether Marie was “a particularly kind person,” Iannone continued, “But part of her own personal mission was ‘Let’s be inclusive, let’s be kind.’ Follow that ministry part of love – that was a huge part of his life and the way he ran his team.”
|If you go
“Lombardi” has been extended at The Rep through Sunday, Nov. 20. Ticket information is available at www.milwaukeerep.com/
A Columbus, Ohio, native where she was a member of St. Brendan Parish and attended Bishop Watterson High School, Iannone said that such inclusiveness applies to the theater as well.
“What the audience sees on stage is only a small part of the group that goes into creating this work of art. We have to be inclusive. Prop people, electricians, technical director,” she said, noting that it is particularly true at The Rep. “They are all here because they love it. Just because they aren’t seen, doesn’t mean their contributions can be dismissed and not valued.”
Little is written about Marie, but what there is was enough to interest Iannone in the role.
“I’ve always said I don’t like to play losers, and I don’t mean that in they don’t win in the play, or they’re not the lead in the play,” she said. “I like to play people who find a way to survive and be true to themselves. Marie is a survivor and she is true to herself.”
While she was not Jesuit-trained like her husband, Iannone said Marie drew upon the same Catholic elements he did.
“Catholicism gives you structure, discipline and a set of rituals that bring comfort and give you guideposts,” the mother of a teenage daughter, Maria Divina, said. “She raised their children Catholic, got them through the sacraments; that’s part of your task as a Catholic mother, is to make sure that you lay those paving stones down.”
In words, “Lombardi” doesn’t deal directly with the challenges Marie faced – birth of a stillborn child, the death of a daughter two days after birth, drinking and depression, but Iannone said they can come across in other ways.
“This play isn’t about that. Those signals are very carefully laid in. For those audience members who want to pick up on it and want to follow her thread, they’re there. I can’t play them. You can’t play a state of being. You can’t play depressed,” she said.
“Crafting those things is what happens between Lee (E. Ernst, who plays Lombardi) and myself and the director. He says, ‘Let’s just let this moment be between the two of you.’ And there are beautiful signals that the partner knows what the other is going through.’”
Overcoming fear with faith
In a profession in which “you don’t want to fail, you don’t want to age,” Iannone said her career involves “a lot of fear.” Noting that she had been waiting to work with “Lombardi” director Sanford “Sandy” Robbins for 25 years and that she has known and worked with Ernst (Lombardi) for 20 years, she did not want to fail either one of them.
“I had a great many fears going into this. In many ways, from the first rehearsal this has been a leap of faith. I just had to jump in and say, ‘I’m going to do my best; that’s why they hired me.’ Something about what I do was right. So I can only do my best and hope that’s enough,” she said, adding that her fears were quickly allayed due to the support of “this wonderful group of artisans and craftsmen.”
While fear is a constant in her profession, Iannone confronts it.
“When you fear, what do you grab onto? You start the day by saying, ‘God, let me do my best. Let me not get distracted. Let me be present where I am. And let me be a vessel,’” she said.
The actress, who earned a bachelor’s in fine arts from Wright State University and a master’s in fine arts from Illinois State at Bloomington-Normal, turns to her faith in times of need.
“Catholicism is a faith for people who need. Christ came to us in a time of need. And said to us when you need me I will be here. But I’m always here and you will always need,” she said. “There isn’t a moment where you won’t need. Even if you think you won’t need, you will. For me, that’s my pillar. For even when I think I don’t need, I do, and then I can come back and go, ‘I just wasn’t aware that’s what’s happening at the time.’”
Despite the risks and the trepidation, Iannone continues to leap. She quotes the 19th century actor Edwin Booth who retired in order to deal with the turmoil his family was experiencing due to the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, done by his brother, John Wilkes Booth. After eight months of solitude, the actor returned to the stage and explained in an open letter, “This is the only profession for which God has fitted me. This is all I know how to do, and so I must.”
Iannone must, too.
“This is my calling. So I had to jump into this and say whatever my fears are about failing this director, failing this artistic director or my acting partners, whenever I get locked in like that, I have to say, ‘That’s denying my gift.’”
She added, “So I must leap, just leap, and trust that the gifts will sustain me.”