THEATER REVIEW: Football, Friendship and Fame in Theatre Exile’s Tommy and Me

Matt Pfeiffer and Simon Kiley in Tommy and Me at Theatre Exile.

Matt Pfeiffer and Simon Kiley in Tommy and Me at Theatre Exile. (Photo by Paola Nogueras)

I know virtually nothing about sports.

Normally, I would not lead with this.  But here, it matters.  You see, the “me” of Tommy and Me is the play’s author, sportswriter Ray Didinger; and Tommy is football player Tommy McDonald, whom Didinger idolized, and whose friendship he cultivated years after McDonald’s too-short career was over. Read more »

5 Questions With Eagles Great Tommy McDonald

Tommy McDonald played seven seasons with the Eagles, from 1957 to 1963. Photo provided

Tommy McDonald played seven seasons with the Eagles, from 1957 to 1963. Photo provided

Long before Ray Didinger was an award-winning sportswriter, Comcast SportsNet commentator and WIP host, he was an eager kid trotting after Tommy McDonald, No. 25, at Eagles training camp, spouting off the wide receiver’s stats and hoping to carry his helmet.

Year later, Didinger started crossing paths with his boyhood hero as a writer for the Philadelphia Bulletin and the Daily News, and the two formed a close friendship. But it wasn’t until McDonald was being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998 that he revealed their long-ago connection.

Didinger turned the story of that friendship into his first play, Tommy and Me, produced by Theatre Exile and premiering tonight at FringeArts. The show’s full run is already sold out.

McDonald, now 82, answered our questions about seeing the play, asking Didinger to present him at the Hall of Fame and being a lifelong Eagles fan. Read more »

Review: Theatre Exile’s Smoke is 50 Shades of Meh

Matteo Scammel and Merci Lyons-Cox in Smoke at Theatre Exile. (Photo by Paola Nogueras)

Matteo Scammel and Merci Lyons-Cox in Smoke at Theatre Exile. (Photo by Paola Nogueras)

“Will I seem terminally un-hip,” worried the 59-year-old critic, “if I admit I’m not into bondage?” Don’t get me wrong: I’m not offended, but I just don’t care about it — or at least, I don’t think it’s much of a spectator sport.

But if for a moment I fantasize about bondage and its appeal — don’t worry, I’ll keep this abstract — I imagine mysterious dark rooms, brutishly sexy partners with come-hither allure, and wordless but charged encounters.

All of which would be completely wrong — at least, according to Kim Davies’ play, Smoke. Here, in an ugly New York apartment kitchen, John and Julie awkwardly hook up. He’s a 31-year-old aspiring artist; she’s a 20-year-old rich girl student, who plans to drop out of college and do nothing. Only about 20 minutes into their agonizingly banal conversation do we start to realize that what they want isn’t just ordinary sex, it’s the kinky, high-risk kind. Read more »

Theatre Exile Wins Big at 2015 Barrymore Awards

A scene from Theatre Exile's "The Whale."

A scene from Theatre Exile’s “The Whale.”

It was a big night for Theatre Exile as the company’s production The Whale took home a ton of Barrymore Awards, making them the most-winning theater of the year at tonight’s ceremony at the Merriam Theatre.

A scene from Theatre Horizon's "Into The Woods."

A scene from Theatre Horizon’s “Into The Woods.”

Both The Whale (Outstanding Overall Production of a Play, Outstanding Direction of a Play) and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? led Theatre Exile to five wins, followed by Theatre Horizon, who scored four awards, all for their innovative staging of Into the Woods (Outstanding Overall Production of a Musical, Outstanding Direction of a Musical). 11th Hour Theatre Company, Flashpoint Theatre Company, InterAct Theatre Company, People’s Light, Philadelphia Artists’ Collective, and The Wilma Theatre had two wins each. Read more »

REVIEW: Theatre Exile’s Rizzo

Photo by Paola Nogueras

Frank Rizzo (Scott Greer) and Marty Weinberg (Paul L. Nolan)| Photo by Paola Nogueras

A special theatrical alchemy happens when a great actor plays a bigger-than-life, flawed but charismatic personality. Think of Orson Welles’s Charles Foster Kane, Burt Lancaster’s Elmer Gantry, and Robert Preston’s Harold Hill. A couple of years ago, Bryan Cranston won a Tony portaying one such figure from the real world — Lyndon B. Johnson.

Read more »

Late Mayor Frank Rizzo Comes to Life in New Stage Play

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 3.49.36 PM

Photo by Robert Hakalski

Play readings don’t normally culminate in shouting matches or near-fistfights, but leave it to this world premiere about our controversial late mayor to change that. In May 2014, during a talkback after a reading of the script, one attendee relentlessly fumed at playwright Bruce Graham (The Philly Fan) for going too soft on Rizzo.

“Graham threatened to take him out in the parking lot,” says Best of Philly-winning actor Scott Greer (right), who plays Rizzo in the Theatre Exile production. “That’s how the discussion started.”

Greer, Graham and director Joe Canuso met with everyone from former mayor Wilson Goode to a Rizzo bodyguard to ex-con Vince Fumo to Rizzo right-hand man Marty Weinberg to develop the play, loosely based on Sal Paolantonio’s definitive biography.

Read more »

PHOTOS: Opening Night of Theatre Exile’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Last night was the premiere of Theatre Exile’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at Plays and Players. The Edward Albee-penned, Tony-winning play concerns a fed-up, middle-aged married couple who invite a young co-worker and his wife to their home for cocktails. What ensues is an intense evening of psychological mind games that will make you cringe and beg for more all at the same time. The show stars Boardwalk Empire’s Pearce Bunting and Catharine Slusar as George and Martha. The younger couple is played by Jake Blouch and Emilie Krause.

HughE Dillon was there to get snapshots of the opening-night crowd. Check them out in the slideshow below. For more information on how to see Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, go here.

The 600-Pound Gay Man: How Actor Scott Greer Bares It All in The Whale

Scott Greer in "The Whale."

Scott Greer in “The Whale.”

Imagine eating yourself to death. Sounds dreadful. That’s what Charlie, the protagonist in the darkly humorous and poignant play The Whale, essentially does: After the death of his partner, Charlie balloons to 600 pounds, refusing to leave his house due not only to his depression, but his size. As his estranged daughter attempts to reconcile with Charlie, we get to see how family takes on a variety of meanings.

And, yeah, we get to see that 600-pound costume, too, a custom-made suit that takes an extraordinary amount of time for actor Scott Greer to get in and get out of. Greer stars in the production at Theatre Exile, and took the time to chat with us about what its like to play the monstrous character, and what kind of reaction someone like Charlie would get in the modern gay “community.” Read more »

In the Wings: A Conversation With Red Speedo Star Keith Conallen

Keith Conallen plays Peter, the brother of an Olympic swimmer, in Theatre Exile’s production of Lucas Hnath’s Red Speedo.My name is … Keith Conallen. Sometimes I insist on my middle initial J., but not today.

I am … Philly born and bred, a lover of baking and the messiest OCD neat freak in the world.

I grew up … just south of Oregon Avenue, on Sydenham between 15th and 16th. It was a 5-10 minute walk to get to any stadium for a game.

On opening night I … try to hide. I love being an actor and having all that attention but I also kind of hate all that attention.

My favorite part of Red Speedo is … the intensity. It’s simmering at the start and its boil raises higher and higher.

Speedo or trunks? Trunks.

There must a a ton of Speedo jokes backstage … Ya know, sadly we don’t have any jokes re: Speedos. We just keep laughing at ourselves when we say something dumb or make up words. It’s effortless to laugh with this crew and cast.

The show features the edge of an Olympic swimming pool and real chlorine smell. What’s it like to have a real, water-filled pool on stage? To have a pool is sort of the game-changer. We can do so many more things than if we didn’t have it. The images are cool, the reflections on the walls, and the immersion of the environment helps us tell this tale.

If I were to compete in the Olympics I would … aside from fail, have no idea what I was doing there. I am not athletically inclined.

Brian Ratcliffe (left) and Conallen in "Red Speedo." | Photo by Paola Nogueras

Brian Ratcliffe (left) and Conallen in “Red Speedo.” | Photo by Paola Nogueras

To get into character as Peter, I … focus very much on his intensity and legal skill set; as a lawyer, Peter has a few angles he plays.

The first play I was in was … ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas and I played Father. I was 6, in kindergarten. Funny story: I was sick and very tired and when I laid down for “a long winters nap,” my teacher had to shake me awake so I could “spring from my bed.”

My dream role is … I don’t really have a dream role per say but I do like thinking about Albee’s The Zoo Story.

My surprising celebrity crush is … Sandra Bullock. I just love her. A friend just moved to Austin and I found out Sandy (yes, I call her Sandy) has a bakery/café in Austin. I plan on visiting my friend and stalking Sandy Ms. Bullock.

The most famous person I’ve ever met … I’ve met a few celebrities, they were all just people like you and me. Sitting, relaxing, a couple beers, some jokes. But the most famous would have to be Haley Joel Osment, who was a total douche. Just kidding, he was fine.

The last time I dined out in Philadelphia, I ate … goat meat and guac at Cantina Los Caballitos. Yum. If you mean fancy-pants, it’s been a while, but I had dinner with friends at Russet. So yum.

The best show I saw in Philly recently … was a cabaret/concert at the Fringe Arts during our Philly fringe. It was drag, it was punk, it was gross and it was electrifying. Christeene is the name of the performer and I thank them for a fantastic journey.

The craziest thing I’ve ever had to do for a Philly theater performance was … for Theatre Exile. A few years back we did a production of The Lieutenant of Inishmore where I hung upside-down for 11 [minutes] out of a 13-minute scene.

The best thing about Philadelphia’s theatre scene is … its continuous growth and evolution with new companies springing up, new concepts in what theatre is, new voices, our voices, our minds creating our work. I couldn’t imagine working anywhere else. Why ever would I leave this magic?

Red Speedo plays at Studio X now through November 23rd. More information and tickets can be found here.

Cast, crew and staff of "Red Speedo." | Photo via Theatre Horizon Facebook

Cast, crew and staff of “Red Speedo” pose in front of their stage pool. | Photo via Theatre Exile Facebook

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