With a Little Help from His Friends
At the end of the Jimmy Stewart classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the beleaguered George Bailey, whose friends and neighbors are tossing money into a basket to replace the $8,000 missing from his savings and loan, finds a book in the pile from the angel, Clarence, who helped him when he thought life would be better for everyone if he’d never been born. In the front of the book, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” Clarence wrote, “No man is a failure who has friends.”
And playwright William Rolleri knows that even better than George Bailey. The former New York Daily News reporter who now lives in Delaware had little hope of producing his newest play, “The Brothers Flanagan.” It’s a recession; he’s a mostly unknown quantity, as is his play about two Grays Ferry Irish pub owners whose business is being decimated by a serial killer. And, he points out ruefully, “No one wants to produce a 75-year-old playwright.”
Except maybe his friends, who have already anteed up half the cost of the production. And to raise the rest, well, in the spirit of Mickey Rooney’s Andy Hardy movie character from the 1930s, they’re putting on a show in the bar.
On December 28, two of Philadelphia’s finest actors, Michael Toner and Jack Barrett, will be performing two of Rolleri’s short one-man plays upstairs at Fergie’s Pub at 1214 Sansom Street. For $30 a ticket, you not only get two plays, but some Irish music and a Guinness Stout glass (which you can fill downstairs at the bar).
“Fergie [bar owner Fergus Carey] is one hell of a supportive guy,” says Rolleri. “He loves the theater himself, and he loves ‘The Brothers Flanagan.’ If we get the money together to do a full production in fall, we’re going to do it in Fergie’s because the whole thing takes place in a bar.”
Rolleri chose the two short plays because they both got a great reaction from audiences when they were previously performed (by Toner and Barrett). One, called “Sugar Ferguson’s Rotten Apples,” is a largely autobiographical account of an episode from Rolleri’s last visit to his grandparents in Canada, though the playwright, who is half Irish (County Wexford), transports the story to Dublin. It focuses on a near tragedy, involving kids, a forbidden apple tree, a shotgun, the police, and the parish priest. “Ring in the Old” takes place in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen where a bar patron sees an opportunity to bring back, at least for a moment, a little of the now yuppiefied area’s violent past. . .for auld lang syne. Expect some midnight dark humor.
The generosity of his friends has inspired Rolleri to pay it forward. “It occurred to me that there are a lot of younger playwrights in Philly and some of them are very good, but they have trouble getting produced because their work is original and their names not known; their names are not going to sell tickets,” he says. “I have a few friends who wanted me to go ahead and get my play produced, and I decided that if I go ahead, I’m not going ahead alone. Whatever we get at the box office will go to produce another play—not me, but another playwright.”
You can help Rolleri and the unknown playwrights his success will also lift by attending “Apres Noel, Christmassy Plays,” on Sunday, December 28, at 7 PM. For tickets (there are only 50 seats, so act fast), contact Fergie’s at 215-928-8118 or Steve Hatzai at 215-769-0552, or? email@example.com.