Playwright Matthew Lombardo Draws On Recovery For New Play
"....I woke up in a filthy and disreputable hotel room on 43rd Street in Manhattan. The lower half of my body was lying on a floor mattress while my upper torso and head was facedown on the soiled, multi-cigarette burned carpet. Sleeping next to me was my then boyfriend-slash-drug dealer- a man as tortured as he was beautiful-a trail of bloody syringes, matches, and some empty crack baggies separating the two of us in bed."
These are the words of playwright Matthew Lombardo, author of High, a play opening March 1 at the Parker Playhouse. But they don’t come from that play, but rather his own reckoning with an addiction to crystal meth that nearly destroyed his career.
Sitting comfortably in a Wilton Manors coffee shop-he does all his writing here now-the handsome writer relates his story:
"I didn’t want to write this play because I would have to sit across a table with interviewers like you. I would have to divulge the whole back story, but it just kept eating away at me, this personal experience," Lombardo explains.
Lombardo had been a model child, son, citizen in so many ways for the first 36 years of his life; until he was swept off his feet by "Aquaman," a dazzlingly handsome man with golden hair and blue eyes who would sweep him away from the solitude of his success as a writer and into the spinning world of meth.
"I had never tried a drug," he recalls. "If you asked friends from high school, they wouldn’t believe it could happen to me. I was writing for television by the time I was 25, so focused on my career and being the best little boy in the world. I never had the opportunity to do what my fellow gay men were doing."
But, one bad decision led to seven years of dizzying drug use and he hit the proverbial rock bottom. Lombardo was broke and homeless. His reputation was shattered. Family and friends refused to answer his calls unless he got help. He was alone and isolated.
Lombardo found the help he needed at Lambda South, a meeting place in downtown Fort Lauderdale for lesbians and gays in recovery. He pulled the pieces together, determined to fight his addiction and get clean.
Sheldon Epps, a friend with the Pasadena Playhouse, gave him that chance and within two years, he had two plays on Broadway, "Looped," a play about an infamous dubbing session with actress Tallulah Bankhead, and "High," a story that doesn’t sound too different from his own.
"High" isn’t autobiographical, but Lombardo has met many young men in South Florida like Cody Randall, the young protagonist played by Evan Jonigkeit, struggling feelings of shame, remorse and worthlessness.
"He’s at the intersection of addiction, faith and forgiveness and it’s an intersection where the traffic light is broken. But it’s not just a play about addiction, it’s a play about those who try to help people with addiction," adds Lombardo, describing the sponsor in the play, a tough nun portrayed by Kathleen Turner, who deals with demons of her own.
He is quick to point out that everyone knows someone with an addiction, whether it be alcohol, sex or food: "It doesn’t matter if it’s a drink, a dick, or a piece of devil’s food cake....but (addiction) is the only disease where people get mad at you for having it. They ask, ’Why can’t you just stop?’ People assume there’s a certain amount of free will involved," say Lombardo.
At each stop on the tour-the show has already played Hartford, Cincinnati, Broadway and Boston and will hit 12 cities in all-there have been talkbacks following the performances and events to raise awareness about addiction in each community.
Lombardo, who is co-producing the tour, specifically picked cities where he knows crystal meth is a huge problem.
"This is the first high profile play that deals with meth and specifically how it affects the gay community," he points out.
Opening night at the Parker Playhouse will include a benefit for Lambda South, the place Lombardo associates so closely with his recovery. The facility burned on Dec. 26, 2010 and reopened last September.
While Lombard seems to have been successful in his own efforts, he acknowledges the odds are still against him. In the notes to High, he writes:
"I know the odds are against me. That only 1 in 3 will survive and recover. And with crystal meth addicts the odds get even worse. For there’s only a staggering 6 percent chance of recovery after 5 years of continuous clean time. So I certainly have my work cut out for me. But what keeps me clean today is simply what medical professionals surprisingly all agree is the most effective: A Belief in a Power Greater Than Oneself. And so it is within that, I introduce my new play HIGH as a testament to the Power of Faith and the Belief in Miracles."
High by Matthew Lombardo
Feb. 29 - March 4
Parker Playhouse, Fort Lauderdale
Tickets $46.50 - 66.50 at ParkerPlayhouse.com
For more information about programs at Lambda South,
go to LambdaSouth.org