AISLE SAY Philadelphia


Written by Bruce Graham
Based on the biography
Rizzo: The Last Big Man in Big City America by S.A. Paolantonio
Directed by Joe Canuso
Philadelphia Theatre Company at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre
480 S. Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107
For Tickets call the PTC Box Office: 215-985-0420
Playing now through October 23, 2016

Reviewed by Claudia Perry

Bruce Graham has done it again. He has taken a subject that is uniquely Philadelphian and turned it into a universal tale. Rizzo is based on the best-selling book, Rizzo: The Last Big Man in Big City America by Sal Paolantonio. Employing a cast of seven actors in multiple roles, Mr. Graham has created a three dimensional portrait of Mayor Frank Rizzo, a man whose thirst for power leads him to racism, graft and corruption. In a presentational and non-linear format, the piece travels back and forth in time as we witness scenes from Rizzo’s past wherein he rises from a beat cop to Police Commissioner to his all-encompassing influence as a two term Mayor of Philadelphia. This production first originated at Theatre Exile and was directed, as this production has been, by its Artistic Director, Joe Canuso. I was away at college at Penn State and then in New York during Rizzo’s reign but I’ll never forget what my sister said while she was a student attending Temple University at the time. She said, “Everybody was afraid of the police when Rizzo was mayor – everybody – white people, black people, students, you name it." It is uncanny how life imitates art and how this play is so utterly timely in nature. For now more than ever we must beware of fascist demagogues jockeying for positions of power in our country.

The original cast from the Theatre Exile production are reprising their roles for this Philadelphia Theatre Company’s run. Scott Greer dominates the stage as Frank Rizzo. Though he is too young and too handsome to actually look like the Rizzo that I remember, his sheer size works in his favor and his Philadelphia accent is just too delicious. Amanda Schoonover does quadruple duty as four characters: Carmella Rizzo, Betsy Pulaski, Shelly Yanoff and a reporter. I only wish that her wigs were as natural, lovely and seamless as her performances of these four, distinct ladies. Steven Wright gives impassioned performances as Jim Turner, Cecil B. Moore, Earl Stout and Luther Bradley. Adding to the ensemble with noteworthy performances are Paul L. Nolan as Marty Weinberg and Howard Leary, Damon Bonetti as the reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer, Robert DaPonte in five roles and William Cahill covering seven.

Colin McIlvaine in tones of black, grey and silver has designed a fragmented city of Philadelphia which allows Christopher Ash as Projection Designer to cast different moods upon this segmented skeleton. Director Joe Canuso keeps this sprawling piece moving and engaging. Rizzo is not like a Philly Cheesesteak (hot, gooey, cheesy, greasy, salty and you’ll hate yourself in the morning for having had one) but rather like a slice of salty Philadelphia history that you will not regret enjoying.

For Tickets call the PTC Box Office: 215-985-0420

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