Playwright Matthew Lombardo discusses his career and the new version of Tea at Five
“I thought I wanted to be an actor,” said playwright Matthew Lombardo. “In fact, I kind of hated performing. But I loved theater, and I loved the rehearsal process—developing the characters, putting the whole thing together. I thought maybe there’s a career for me in theater, but not as an actor.”
Though accepted into NYU’s theater program, Lombardo persuaded his parents to let him put off college after realizing he had always been a writer. “I said, give me a year or two in New York to find some success. If I don’t, I’ll go.” That first year, Lombardo’s play Guilty Innocents was produced Off-Broadway. Procter & Gamble’s creative team saw the show and offered Lombardo a spot in its writer development program, used to fill writing positions for the daytime dramas they produced. “I got the job on ‘Another World,’ which I wrote for three years or so. It was the lowest-rated one-hour drama in the history of daytime,” Lombardo laughed, “but still, it was a job!”
Lombardo became friends with Nancy Addison, who played Jillian on “Ryan’s Hope.” “One day, Nancy and I were watching TV and ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ came on with Kate Mulgrew. I said, ‘My god, she looks like Katharine Hepburn! Someone should write a play for her!’ Nancy said, ‘You’re a playwright, you idiot, write it and I’ll get it to her.’ So I did.” The original Tea at Five premiered at Hartford Stage and was two acts: Hepburn at 31 and, after intermission, 76. “It was interesting to show two different phases of her life, but I realized the audiences responded far more to Act II. So I thought, why don’t we do a 90-minute version where she reflects on her career? It’s more concise. You know, I’ve been working on it for 18 years, so I hope I got it right this time!”
Lombardo wrote the role specifically for Faye Dunaway. “I sent it to her by messenger Monday evening, and I woke up Tuesday to a beautiful message from Faye saying she loved the play, how moved she was and how much she wanted to do it.” The new Tea at Five premieres in Boston and has extended its run here before heading to Broadway. “I love, love Boston. Boston has the best audiences,” said Lombardo. “I bring all my plays here, and I’m just very grateful for this opportunity.”
Tea at Five
June 22–July 14 at the Huntington Avenue Theatre, 264 Huntington Ave., 617-933-8600, bostontheatrescene.com. $49–119.