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.