Ideologies clash. Boundaries are crossed. Exactly how far will we go in the struggle for the upper hand? Theatre Exile begins their 19th season by searching for the moral center with the world premiere of Rizzo, by award-winning playwright and South Philadelphia resident Bruce Graham. Based on “Rizzo: The Last Big Man in Big City America” by Sal Paolantonio (published by Camino Books, Inc.), Rizzo brings one of the most divisive figures in Philadelphia’s history to the stage October 15 through November 8, 2015 (opening night October 21) at Christ Church Neighborhood House (20 N American Street). Founding Artistic Director Joe Canuso will direct, with Barrymore Award-winning actor Scott Greer playing the role of Rizzo. Tickets are on sale now for $10.00 to $40.00 at www.theatreexile.org or by phone (215) 218-4022.
From beat cop, to Police Commissioner, to Mayor of Philadelphia, this highly anticipated production explores the life of Frank ‘Big Bambino’ Rizzo as he prepares for the 1991 mayoral election. A big guy that left an even bigger impression, Rizzo governed with a street-brawler’s bravado that both cooled and fanned the flames of racial unrest. After two terms in office, voters in 1991 were about to cast another ballot for their hero or against the villain they inadvertently helped create. As the play jumps back in time through Rizzo’s life, his Shakespearian complexity and unfiltered opinion brings to light what made this “larger than life” man both revered and reviled by so many.
“Rizzo brings to the stage a character that was loved by some, hated by others, and talked about by everyone,” said Exile Founding Artistic Director Joe Canuso. “A larger than life personality like Rizzo didn’t live in a vacuum. Was he the bold and swift problem solver, or the bully that ruled with fear and intimidation? Theatre Exile seeks to expose the flaws and conflict that existed in Rizzo himself but also in the society that helped create him.”
While Canuso only met the Mayor once, he followed him regularly through the press and on television. “I am just as conflicted about Rizzo now as I was years ago. The play’s story is so relevant to what’s still happening in the country today. We still struggle with racial unrest, economic instability and class warfare. My hope is that Rizzo will help us look back, clear our heads, learn from our mistakes and move us forward.”
Rizzo is directed by Canuso, and stars in the title role Scott Greer, who is nominated for a 2015 Barrymore Award for both Theatre Exile’s The Whale and 1812 Productions’ To The Moon. Damon Bonetti, who recently directed Blood Wedding by Philadelphia Artists’ Collective and The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stoopid Tales by Walnut Street Theatre will play the political beat reporter. Paul L. Nolan, from Arsenic and Old Lace at Walnut Street Theatre and Incorruptible at Arden Theatre, will play Rizzo advisor and confident Marty Weinberg.
Cast members playing multiple roles will include Amanda Schoonover (Carmella Rizzo, Shelley Yanoff), Akeem Davis (Jim Turner, Cecil B. Moore), Robert DaPonte (Warren Holmes, Stan Bohrman) and William Rahill (Ralph Rizzo, Pete Camiel, Thomas Magrann).
Rizzo will be set in a South Philly row home, recreated by John Hoey (scenographer) and Michael Kiley (sound designer), with costumes by Katherine Fritz (costume designer). Video projections and screens will be used to help the show travel in place and time to key moments through Rizzo’s life. “This is not so much a traditional play but a phantasmagoria,” added Canuso. “Time shifts, scenes overlap and theatrical reality can and should be stretched.”
The tale of the former big city mayor represents the first commissioned work for Theatre Exile. Back in 2014, Theatre Exile presented a reading of an early draft during Studio X-hibition, Theatre Exile’s New Play Development Series. Graham knew from the start that the play’s subject would divide the audience but he argued that is what makes for good theater. “Anyone who divides people the way he did has got to make a great character,” said Graham.
Following the workshop reading, Theatre Exile worked with Graham and commissioned their first play, based on Sal Paolantonio’s biography and draws from Graham’s interviews with people who knew Rizzo well. Planning for Rizzo was supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. Rizzo is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. The show represents Theatre Exile’s 15th full-length world premiere and 60th full length show.
Rizzo starts previews on October 15, opens on October 21, and runs 26 performances through November 8, 2015. Shows on Wednesdays and Fridays run at 8:00pm, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:00pm, Saturdays at 3:00pm and 8:00pm, and Sundays at 3:00pm. All shows will be held at Christ Church Neighborhood Center (20 N American Street) in Old City District. Tickets are on sale now for $10.00 to $40.00 at www.theatreexile.org or by phone (215) 218-4022. For more on Theatre Exile, follow @theatreexile on Twitter and Theatre Exile on Facebook.
Following Rizzo, Theatre Exile continues to press the limits of morality, but on a much more personal scale, with the Philadelphia premiere of Smoke by Kim Davies from February 18 to March 13, 2016 (Opening Night February 24, 2016). Theatre Exile’s home stage, Studio X (1340 S. 13th Street), is the intimate setting for this disquieting erotic thriller that exposes what may lie under our deepest self-deceptions. Directed by Producing Artistic Director Deborah Block.
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Theatre Exile keeps the tension building with an explosive ending to the season with The Invisible Hand by Pulitzer Prize winner Ayad Akhtar, from May 12 to June 5, 2015 (Opening Night May 18, 2015), at Studio X. This raw political thriller pits self-preservation vs. the people’s welfare as the playwright examines how society, money and power shape the good and evil within. Theatre Exile’s Associate Artistic Director Matt Pfeiffer will direct, with Barrymore Award-winning actor Ian Merrill Peakes playing Nick Bright.
ABOUT BRUCE GRAHAM
Graham began his career as a playwright at the Philadelphia Festival Theatre for New Plays (PFT) in 1984 with Burkie. Graham became playwright-in-residence at PFT and later served two years as Artistic Director. He has received grants from the Pew Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and was a past winner of the Princess Grace Foundation Statuette. He won the Rosenthal Prize for Coyote On A Fence. He has won consecutive Barrymore Awards for Best New Play (Something Intangible and Any Given Monday) and Chicago’s Jefferson Award for The Outgoing Tide. He is the first American playwright to be invited two years in a row to the Galway Arts Festival, which produced The Outgoing Tide and Stella and Lou.
An ex-high school teacher, Graham still teaches playwriting and film courses at Drexel University. In the past he has taught graduate level playwriting at University of Pennsylvania, Villanova University and Rutgers. He has conducted playwriting workshops in high schools and colleges across the country.
His textbook, The Collaborative Playwright, A Practical Guide to Getting Your Play Written (co-written with Michele Volansky) is published by Heinemann.
Graham recently returned to acting and has appeared as the Black Cat Husband in Haunted Poe (Brat Productions), Lenny in Any Given Monday (Act II) and is currently playing Richard in Time Stands Still (Delaware Theatre Company/Act II).
Graham is a graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He teaches film and theatre courses at Drexel University and lives in South Philly and Elkton, Maryland, with his wife, Stephanie, and a beagle named Truman.
ABOUT SAL PAOLANTONIO
Sal Paolantonio has been a national correspondent for ESPN since 1995, covering the NFL for SportsCenter, Sunday NFL Countdown, Monday Night Countdown and ESPN.com. He is the longest serving NFL field reporter in the history of the network.
Paolantonio has won six Emmys for his contributions to Sports Center and Sunday NFL Countdown. He is the host of the NFL Matchup Show on Sunday mornings on ESPN. He regularly contributes to World News Tonight and Good Morning America on ABC-TV. He is a voting member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee in Canton, Ohio.
He is the author of three books: How Football Explains America (2008) ; The Paolantonio Report: the Most Overrated and Underrated Players, Coaches, Teams and Moments in NFL History (2007) and Frank Rizzo: The Last Big Man in Big City America (1993), the all-time No. 1 regional bestseller in the Philadelphia. He was a professor in the English Department at St. Joseph’s University from 2002 to 2009.
Paolantonio has a bachelor’s degree in history from SUNY Oneonta, a Master’s degree in journalism from NYU. In 2013, he received a Doctorate in Humane Letters from SUNY. He lives in Moorestown, N.J. with his wife, Lynn, who ran the president’s office at the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce for 15 years. They have three grown daughters and a granddaughter.
ABOUT THEATRE EXILE
Founded in 1996 by Joe Canuso and Trish Kelly, Theatre Exile was created by a group of artists who wanted to rattle the gates of the mainstream. Drawn to plays that delve into the complexities of the human condition and contain a sense of true Philadelphia grit and passion, Exile has produced 59 full-scale productions, including 14 world and 28 Philadelphia premieres. They were the first Philadelphia organization to produce such powerhouse playwrights as Pulitzer Prize and Tony winner Tracy Letts, Noah Haidle, Rona Munro, David Harrower, Annie Baker, Rajiv Joseph, Mike Bartlett, Sharr White and Lucas Hnath. For their excellence in producing theatre, they have received 60 Barrymore Award nominations, with nine awards total. Theatre Exile believes in freedom of expression formulated through innovation, exploration and provocation, all while providing a safe and creative environment, in which local artists can grow, experiment and ultimately, find their own voice.