For being such a notorious group, Philly sports fans sure are misunderstood. We boo not because we’re angry, but because we care. And, well, how else are you supposed to articulate disapproval when sitting in a crowd of a couple thousand? Yes, maybe these boos are often misdirected, and sure, they should never be accompanied by flying batteries or snowballs. But hurt has a way of manifesting itself in unusual ways.
Putting this hurt into historical context and exposing the tattered hearts beating underneath the jerseys, face paint and foam fingers, two-time Barrymore Award winner Tom McCarthy reprises his longest-running role to date as The Philly Fan. Since first premiering back in 2004 as part of the Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe, the production has enjoyed several sold-out runs, and the fact that the current revival comes at a time when our championship prospects appear exceptionally bleak really underscores its timelessness.
The show opens in a musty local sports bar the night before the 2005 Super Bowl, where, in a seemingly implausible scenario, McCarthy finds and befriends a Cowboys fan willing to patiently listen as he recounts the past 50 years of Philadelphia sports history. Over the next hour, stadiums rise and fall, legends are made and lost, and epic victories are followed by a perpetual slew of haunting defeats.
Written by playwright Bruce Graham—another Barrymore winner—and conceived by McCarthy himself, ultimately The Philly Fan is as much an ode to local sports enthusiasts as it is to the city as a whole. Because for better or for worse, our local sports culture is very much ingrained into the character of Philadelphia.
McCarthy might be a tad more even-tempered than your average blue-collar, veteran Philly fan (strike up a conversation about the 1993 World Series with your dad for a frame of reference), but there’s nothing phony about the passion he exudes, bouncing between the bar stool, his couch and a set of stadium seats. Even with a few hackneyed jokes here and there and the inevitable beating of the dead horse that is Donovan McNabb, The Philly Fan is full of unexpected, fresh zingers that’ll resonate with fans both young and old, whether die-hards or fair weathers. Listen closely, and you might just catch a quick jab at the Birds’ newly appointed commander-in-chief.
As always, Theatre Exile has invited several guest speakers from the local sports community to take part in Q&A discussions with audiences throughout the show’s run. Stopping by for a pre-show discussion this Saturday is Mark Saltviet, author of The Tao of Chip Kelly, and on Sunday, the production will wrap up with a matinee followed by a mini birthday bash for McCarthy. A new addition this year is the revolving lineup of food trucks parked outside for each performance, creating a more authentic game-time experience for audiences.
The final minutes of The Philly Fan features video clips of McCarthy at the Phillies Parade in 2008, a sentimental moment that reminds the audience why they really bothered coming to the theater in the first place and why they’ll continue to stay glued to the TV every Sunday, regardless of how many disappointments they endure.
The next time the production returns, fingers crossed, it’ll have a new ending.
Through Sun., June 23. 8pm. $25-$35. Studio X, 1340 S. 13th St. 215.218.4022. theatreexile.org