A politician of the past with a message for the present

Tony Lo Bianco in 'The Little Flower' at the Prince

2 minute read
Inviting the audience to play along: Lo Bianco as La Guardia. (photo via tonylobianco.com)
Inviting the audience to play along: Lo Bianco as La Guardia. (photo via tonylobianco.com)

The Little Flower is a one-man show based on the life of Fiorello La Guardia, a progressive and populist congressman who became New York’s 99th mayor, running on a fusion ticket as a Republican who earned the confidence of anti-Tammany Democrats. He was also a remarkable polymath, visionary, and opponent of Prohibition.

His economic policies at the start of the Great Depression anticipated the New Deal. In appreciation for his support, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Roosevelt responded with lavish funding for the city and a total freeze-out of the remains of the Tammany machine.

La Guardia sparked a New York renaissance and restored public faith in city government. He unified the transit system, directed the building of low-cost public housing, public playgrounds, and parks, constructed airports, reorganized the police force, and did away with a corrupt civil service employment system. How odd to have a play like this at a time when two New Yorkers, Trump and Bernie Sanders, are raising these questions in a race for the presidency.

Mixing civics and narcissism

We see him in 1945 on his last day in office, packing up the mementos of his four terms. Tony Lo Bianco has the La Guardia voice down perfectly, and although he is not as petit as La Guardia (who was a mere 5'2"), the resemblance is real and astounding.

The script sounds a little bit like a cross between a high school civics lesson and a narcissistic rant. Certain aspects of both may be unavoidable in a pseudo-biographical show, but the effect is wearing. The show endorses populist progressive government programs, fiscal responsibility, and an active military role in the world. It's also a hip-hip-hooray for the multi-ethnic child of immigrants (his mother was Jewish, and he spoke Yiddish).

We are living through a season of political complaint. Corruption is rampant, infrastructure is decaying, and the basic values of the nation are in question. Fiorello La Guardia is more than relevant; he is today's news. Lo Bianco invites the audience to play along, to participate in Fiorello's monologue, and I wondered if the audience was about to burst out into chanting Bernie! Bernie!

New York patriots are bound to be touched by The Little Flower, but the rest of us may be shifting uneasily in our seats by the time it's done.

What, When, Where

The Little Flower by Tony Lo Bianco. March 26 at the Prince Theater, 1412 Chestnut St., Philadelphia. (267) 239-2941 or princetheater.org.

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