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Graham’s ‘Philly Fan’ at People’s LightBY: Bill Murphy 11.01.2011
Bruce Graham’s ranting Philly Fan, updated to reflect his city’s latest sports tragedies, is sort of like a sports event where the home team always wins.
The Philly Fan. By Bruce Graham; Joe Canuso directed. Through November 20, 20111 at People’s Light & Theatre Company, 39 Conestoga Rd., Malvern, Pa. (610) 644-3500 or peopleslight.org.
They booed Santa Claus. Or did they?BILL MURPHY
One-man shows typically focus on a famous person– Mark Twain, Clarence Darrow, Harry Truman. In The Philly Fan, two Philadelphia theater veterans, actor Tom McCarthy and playwright Bruce Graham, bend the conventions by offering us an evening with a working class everyman. For 75 minutes, this unnamed “Fan” rants humorously and often profanely about the emotional highs and lows for those who remain loyal to Philadelphia’s sports teams.
McCarthy and Graham have presented this show in various venues throughout Philadelphia and its suburbs more than a dozen times over the past six years. They’re currently offering a slightly updated version at People’s Light & Theatre Company. For any sports fan who has taken the emotional roller coaster ride the show depicts, a visit to Malvern should provide a cathartic shock of recognition.
The show’s current version is set in a bar on the night before the 2005 Super Bowl, in which the Eagles ended up choking to the New England Patriots. The Fan takes a stroll down memory lane, addressing an unseen visitor from Dallas. He waxes nostalgic about the champion Eagles of 1960, then goes into a philosophical mode about the excruciating dry period that followed, until the Flyers took the Stanley Cup in 1974 and 1975.
Booing Santa Claus
McCarthy beautifully handles the Fan’s slowly diminishing loss of enthusiasm as the great promise of the 1964 Phillies gradually comes to nothing.
He comments on Philadelphia sports fans’ reputation for churlishness, which was cemented at a 1968 halftime show at Franklin Field when Eagles fans booed a man in a Santa Claus suit and pelted him with snowballs. The Fan insists their target wasn’t Santa Claus but a tacky imposter in a dirty red suit who had been hired by cheap management.
“This is Philadelphia,” he says. “If we like you, we cheer. If we don’t like you, we boo.”
Flyers’ victory parade
Designer Jorge Cousineau complements the simple set with back projection images of Franklin Field, Connie Mack Stadium and other Philadelphia venues. He also uses news footage of the Flyers’ 1974 victory parade down Broad Street, Tug McGraw’s World Series-clinching pitch in 1980 and other memorable moments.
Between Graham’s rhythmic dialogue and McCarthy’s comic timing, they manage to create a character who is genuinely likable, for all his rough edges.
The Philly Fan offers much the same satisfactions as a sporting event, albeit one with the assurance that, in this case, the home team always wins.
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