Although based on Sal Paolantonio's definitive biography, Frank Rizzo: The Last Big Man in Big City America, Theatre Exile's "Rizzo" is not a by-the-numbers recreation. Director Joe Canuso said there is little mention of Rizzo's early, pre-police-force, years. And author Bruce Graham has created scenes and dialogue for the story's sake.
According to Canuso, also the company's artistic director, the play is bookended by two scenes set during the Republican mayoral primary campaign of 1991, just before Rizzo's fatal heart attack at age 70.
"Between those two scenes," explained Canuso, "we flash back to a lot of things that happened in his life . . . the highlights of his career. So you see him at different points: When he was a beat cop, police commissioner, mayor and, finally, a private citizen.
"The play jumps around a lot. What we're trying to do is keep it as spare as possible so we can move from one moment to another. Part of it is happening in his head. He's kind of flashing back in his mind to things that happened. In that way, it's kind of like a memory play."
Lead actor Scott Greer is in every scene, but "Rizzo" is not a one-man piece. The cast includes six actors portraying such real-life individuals as Rizzo's wife, Carmella; Shelly Yanoff, the 1970s liberal activist who spearheaded the ultimately unsuccessful recall-Rizzo campaign of 1976; Marty Weinberg, who was generally viewed as Rizzo's consigliere; and former city Democratic Party czar Peter Camiel.