REVIEW WRITTEN BY NEAL ZOREN
For Digital First Media
Pity the poor Philly fan.
Forlorn and frustrated, this dedicated home team supporter anticipates each coming season with dread. Local clubs provide ample reason for such pessimism. Something always goes wrong. Expecting the worst, even in years that hint at playoff contention, is the best antidote to disappointment that has become chronic.
Tom McCarthy and Bruce Graham understand the patient, impatient breed in whom hope springs eternal and disillusion is rife. About 10 years ago, McCarthy had the idea to put the hapless Philadelphia rooter on stage, Graham wrote a perceptive funny script, Joe Canuso directed McCarthy’s performance of it, and a classic was born.
Graham’s play, “The Philly Fan,” endures because conceiver, author, actor, and director not only caught the essence of the Eagles-Phillies-Flyers-Sixers enthusiast but captured the voice and pulse of the city. “The Philly Fan” rings with pitch perfect attitude and paints an accurate, affectionate portrait of the Philadelphian at his most irascibly and lovably typical.
McCarthy, reprising “The Philly Fan” at Souderton’s Montgomery Theater, can explain the local penchant for booing, the rationale for sticking with teams that annually break your heart, and review the high and low points of Philadelphia sports history while exuding the kidding, down-to-earth nature of the Philadelphian, generosity and humor included. McCarthy’s character, called only The Fan, directs his remarks to a Dallas visitor who wanders into a South Philly bar. After warning the guy not to wear too much Cowboys regalia in hostile territory, he buys him a drink and regales him all things Philadelphia. It’s an astute and hilarious indoctrination.
Graham sets his play on the February 2005 day before Super Bowl XXXIX between the Eagles and the New England Patriots, a game that looked like it might vindicate two consecutive NFC championship losses but ended at the usual Philadelphia sports debacle. McCarthy’s fan is poised for victory while denigrating Pats quarterback, Tom Brady, and lauding his Eagles counterpart, Donovan McNabb, and the great running back, Terrell Owens, who The Fan boasts will be an Eagle for the next five years.
Irony is a big part of Graham’s script. He nails the angst while finding the humor in the 1964 Phillies and 1980 Eagles, teams that blew sure things just as it looked as if Philadelphia was saying good-bye to inevitable defeat. He and McCarthy also celebrate the joy back-to-back Stanley Cups, the 1980 World Series win, and the 1983 Sixers victory brought to the city. An addition accounts for the 2008 Phillies championship, complete with video that features McCarthy, as The Fan, and Graham at the Broad Street parade. Local comedian Joe Conklin is heard skillfully mimicking the cadences of Harry Kalas and Merrill Reese.
“The Philly Fan” is not just a checklist of sports nostalgia. Bruce Graham is a keen observer of life, and he gives The Fan lots to say about lots of things, all of it funny and all of it showing Graham’s great knack for seeing the plain truth in any situation.
Tom McCarthy is terrific. Nearing age 80, he does not miss a beat and can pass for a man 25 younger than he is. Through language and expression, McCarthy is the Philly guy we all know and have mixed reactions to seeing and being. He’s no-nonsense. He has no airs. And if he chooses to cheer or boo, he’ll do it. The heck with propriety! In addition to entertaining with his comedy and camaraderie, McCarthy knows how to strike a sentimental note when The Fan speaks of his late wife and Game Day buddy.
“The Philly Fan” is fun combined with sharp-eyed knowledge of all idiosyncrasies Philadelphia. Canuso directs McCarthy to be so natural, you can’t tell he’s acting, and the show moves with easy, congenial speed. Like a good night at the bar.