Page 3 of 3
Because it was important enough for them to tell their stories, it’s only right that we take them seriously. Issues of race spring up constantly, both because the Apollo Creed character was black (and played by a white female, Erin McCarson, here) and Rocky is a stereotypically macho Italian-American, which results in some interviewees’ comically vitriolic and hateful language. I can’t decide if New Yorkers might react so strongly to the same issues, but I suspect this is a Philadelphia-specific response. There is a passion in Philadelphia, an anger almost, that has grown out of disparities between classes and racial groups extenuated as jobs disappeared right around the time Rocky
was made, which has evolved into a very particular civic identity that makes these stories uniquely Philadelphian.
Other issues touched upon, in no particular order and with none taking precedent over the others were civil and gay rights, homosexual desire and experimentation, gender politics, Iraq, "good old Philadelphia violence" and breaking through the fourth wall. It was almost too much: There was never enough time to process any of it at great length before the next topic was breached. This fact, coupled with occasional dialogue taken directly from the film (like Adrian's outburst at Paulie, played by Julia Sirna-Frest, about their relationship done verbatim to the film) made me want to slow it all down or read a transcript to make some kind of linear sense of it all.
After an obligatory closing reenactment of the Philadelphia Art Museum steps scene with Rocky climbing atop a refrigerator while the cast sang the theme song and the film’s credits rolled on a vintage television downstage, I decided that although Rocky Philly
may have tried to do too much with its 90 minutes, the play succeeded in as much as it was honest about its subject. (Meanwhile, after an hour the gimmick of projecting the film over the play seemed tired and might have stopped there.)
I realized that all of the issues haphazardly mashed together in the play were touched upon in the film as well–not much more subtly–and a few simple conversations with the natives of the city was all it took to highlight those issues for examination. Perhaps that’s why Rocky reminds me of Thanksgiving and was played in epic marathons during the holiday: because there was something for everybody watching to relate to and make them thankful for what they had, even if it wasn't all they wanted or needed. Rocky Philly
’s juxtaposition of real life Philadelphians and the Philadelphians of Rocky
provoked those feelings of plenitude as forcefully as a punch to the gut.
(photo credit: Sue Kessler)