OUT OF LEFT FIELD
"THE PHILLY FAN"
That's star Tom McCarthy in full character
as "The Philly Fan" in a recent show poster.
'The Philly Fan' Captures
By STAN ISAACS
The play is The Philly Fan. It is a one-man tour-de-force with actor Tom McCarthy. It is, says playwright Bruce Graham, my valentine to a loud, angry, frustrated, knowledgeable, funny, loyal, occasionally violent bunch of guys.
I would call Graham, The Poet Laureate of Philadelphia Paranoia.
Both playwright and actor agree the play is more than a little autobiographical. Both have suffered with the Philllies, Eagles, Flyers and 76ers over the years, It all comes out over 70 minutes on stage these days in Bristol, Pa., outside Philadelphia, as McCarthy emerges almost as a look-alike and sound-alike of Archie Bunker.
I think old Brooklyn Dodgers fans, Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago Cubs fans, among others, could bemoan their fate just like aggrieved Philadelphia fans. But there is some rich Philadelphia history at work that Graham mines. For me, a fairly recent citizen of Philly precincts, it was educational as well as entertaining.
When the Phillies are leading the league and seemingly on their way to the 1964 pennant, McCarthy-Bunker declaims, Gene Mauch, best Goddamn manager any team ever had. When the Phillies have a monumental collapse and blow the pennant, he rants, Worst Goddamn manager
"Philly Fan" justifies the booing of injured Dallas Cowboy Michael Irvin: 'Dallas -- Americas Team--What bullshit! [Dallas] wouldnt even be in America if it wasnt for Philly. Whatd Dallas ever give this country--Lee Harvey Oswald, thats what. Killed the only Catholic president were ever gonna have.
Theres the almost boastful reference to the judge who was installed at Eagles games in Veterans Stadium. They stuck a judge and a jail down there. Only stadium in the country with its own jail. They had to do it with [the behavior of] some of these guys.
An infamous incident concerns the day a scraggly, substitute Santa Claus appeared at an Eagles game and was booed by the crowd. This is a bad rap, says "Philly Fan."
We werent booing Santa Claus. We were booing a shitty Santa Claus for Chrissakes.
There was the time Eagle fans bombarded Dallas coach Jimmy Johnson with snowballs.
Know who started that whole thing? says "Philly Fan." Guy whos our governor [Ed Rendell]. He bets this guy inna stands 20 bucks he couldnt reach Jimmy Johnson with a snowball. Next thing you know theres a million snow balls.
The play opens with "Philly Fan" booing the news because New England Patriot quarterback Tom Brady is on screen. He says, We kinda like it when people call us obnoxious assholes.
. We had this guy Frank Rizzo as mayor. Hed make Atilla the Hun look like a faggot. I voted for him both times.
. Only morons like country music.
.If this [Eagles owner Jeffrey] Lurie guy wasnt born with a 100 million bucks, hed have trouble getting a job at the car wash.
. We went to California once and I went to a Dodgers game. Two men on, no outs and theyre playin with a fuckin beach ball.
When his wife wants to go to Florida, he says, No way. Look up inna sky, whatta you see. Geese and Jews flyin south for the winter.
He says Show me another city in this country with four teams that hasnt had a championship in 21 Goddamn years ..Even that fuckin Smarty Jones [who missed winning the Triple Crown] laid down on us.
The Philly Fan was first produced in 2004. It has been almost a staple of Philadelphia area theaters ever since, made up-to-date from time to time with Graham keeping up with the changing fortunes of Philadelphia teams. The Phils took some of the paranoia out of "Philly Fan" by winning last years World Series. It ends now with newsreel-like shots of McCarthy in the actual Philadelphia World Series victory parade. Graham will have pen ready depending on how the Phils do in this years post-season play.
The play stemmed from a conversation between Graham and McCarthy. Graham says McCarthy told him, Hey, you wanta write a play about a Philadelphia sports fan? And Graham said, Yeah. Okay.
They are quite a pair
Graham, 52, an all-Philadelphia guy, is one of the bulwarks of local theater. He went to Indiana U. of Pa.. He has written, with a common touch, family dramas, plays about politics and sports. He has had plays performed in several cities, Londons West End (the equivalent of Broadway) and off-Broadway. Upcoming is a new play, Any Given Monday, which takes place while a Monday Night Football game is on.
McCarthy is 73. The man who comes across Archie Bunker-like in The Philly Fan won the citys Barrymore Award for his portrayal of Willie Loman in Death of a Salesman a few years ago. He next will perform the Henry Fonda, old husband role in On Golden Pond", then comes back again in February with The Philly Fan in Ambler, Pa.
He says he has no trouble shifting between such different roles. Its a privilege to speak Arthur Millers lines, he says. The Philly Fan now fits him like the snug Phils cap he wears. The best part, he says, is when the audience gets it. You can hear the laughter coming back at you. Its fulfilling.
©2009 by Stan Isaacs. The Stan Isaacs caricature is ©2001 by Jim Hummel. The poster is courtesy of Tom McCarthy and "The Philly Fan" production. This column first posted Oct. 5, 2009.
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