Interview: Big Daddy Graham
“A Row Home Christmas” – Man plans. God laughs
I had every intention of attending and reviewing, for phillyreview.com, the December 20, 2017 preview performance of The Player’s Club of Swarthmore presentation of “A Row Home Christmas”. Written by and starring Big Daddy Graham and directed by Anthony SanFilippo, Graham plays Kevin, a Philadelphia firefighter who, each year, volunteers to play Santa Claus in the same neighborhood in which he grew up. But on this Christmas Eve he decides to sneak into a familiar home in that neighborhood to reflect on holiday memories from his time growing up there. In the process, Kevin has a holiday experience that will change his life forever.
Maybe it was the screwy weather coupled with being “oot and aboot” (Philadelphia Flyer’s hockey lingo) among the holiday hoards, or the fruition of the prophecy laid on me by my sixth grade nun, Sister Mary Chainsaw, concerning my profligate youth, or, just maybe, it was the deity’s sense of humor that delivered upon me the sinus infection of all sinus infections, putting the kybosh on my plan to attend the opening of Big Daddy Graham’s premier performance.
Man plans. God laughs.
“A Row Home Christmas” is the second, one-man play Graham has written and performed. The first was “Last Call”, adapted from his book of the same name which essentially is a memoire of his father. I spoke with him recently to learn what spurred him to write this latest work.
“I’d like to peek behind the mirror of your new play. Did it result from some cathartic need as I suspect “Last Call” did?”
In the gentlest way, Big Daddy reschooled me in the painful lesson of jumping to conclusions.
“No, a lot of people have used that word about the book and it wasn’t that at all.” He explained it was nothing more than a list of 60 some remembrances of his father. I later learned it was precipitated by a question from his sister about what he remembered of the man. (I don’t know if I could come up with that many about my father with whom I was close – and that makes me very sad.)
As for the trigger for this new play, he said he and a friend were driving through their old, neighborhood when he stopped before the house he grew up in to drink in the memories. His friend wanted more. They drove to her old home where she got out and rang the doorbell. An old lady answered. “I figured she’d think we were nut jobs but, instead, invited us in and we talked and talked.” As he related this to me, all I could think of was the Walrus, the Carpenter and a bunch of Oysters.
I did not think of a catharsis.
So I did get to look behind the mirror and saw three people reliving the past. I am of an age where I have many more yesterdays than tomorrows. A few years ago, I wrote:
Old Men live in a room called “Remember”.
Cuts from the past flicker on its blue-screen walls.
Visions and voices morph one into another.
Crisp edges blurred by time.
Chronicles or synthesis of fact and fancy?
Do Old Men really know? Do we really care?
Having spoken to Big Daddy Graham, it’s pretty clear that this old man cares. Looking forward to catching one of the remaining performances/
Charley is a 25 year member of SAG/AFTRA with principal roles in TV series including The Wire, The Sopranos, Law and Order, Law and Order SVU, Homicide Life on the Street and Cold Case, and films including Liberty Heights and Two Bits. His professional theater credits include Guys and Dolls (Nicely Johnson), Fiddler on the Roof (Lazar Wolf), The Wizard of Oz (Cowardly Lion), Gangstertown (Mayor Big Bill Thompson) and Niagara Falls (Mr. Poletti). Charley has also appeared in Chicago (Billy Flynn), Annie (Daddy Warbucks), Damn Yankees (Van Buren) and Annie Get Your Gun (Charlie Davenport).