By Amy S. Rosenberg
Inquirer Staff Writer
Over at the Society Hill Playhouse the other night, Tom Tansey had his lines memorized. They were not many, but his role was a critical one.
"This is your ticket for the show," he said, with a practiced cadence, adding quickly: "We're not quite done with you yet."
Then the narrative turn: "This is your ticket for your pie, which you can get right behind me."
And the denouement: "This is your ticket for your pint, which you can get in the lobby. You're welcome to bring all of it into the theater."
Talk about a warm welcome! Yes, with an exceptionally hospitable concept imported from Glasgow's popular lunchtime series by the same name, theatergoers in Philadelphia this month have been enjoying with giddy gusto "A Play, a Pie and a Pint."
That's a one-act play (a new one each week), a bottle of Yards (while they last, then Corona), and a piece of pizza from Kennett Restaurant on Second Street, all included in a $15 ticket. (In Glasgow, the pie in question is a meat pie, vegetarian options available; Heineken is the sponsoring ale, but the pints are true pints, not bottles, as here.)
"In by 6, out by 7," says Emma Gibson, producer of the event and an import from the United Kingdom herself, who secured a $25,000 Knight Challenge grant (and subsequently raised the matching $25,000) to rally her Tiny Dynamite organization around the concept she calls "Brilliantly Casual Theatre."
She has surprised herself with sellout crowds through the first two weeks of the four-week season at the 80-seat Red Room, which features a new play each week, running Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. A second season is planned, and the first week's play, Peaches En Regalia by Steve Lyons, has been imported (snatched up) by the equally amiable Fergie's Bar for what Gibson calls, "A Play, a Pie and a Pint -- a second helping" on three nights in November.
At last week's Tuesday show, Hazardous, by Philadelphia playwright Quinn D. Eli, an absurdist-meets-domestic-claustrophobia play about two sisters in Los Angeles, one of whom is auditioning to become the wife of a Scientologist ("We're starting to get that stench people get when their lives are going nowhere," one says), the audience was won over by all three of the evening's components.
"It's hospitable, it's generous," said Greg Romero, who sat with a table of fellow local playwrights, one of whom brought along a latte to go with her Yards.
"They make you feel good as soon as you walk in," said Wally Zialcita.
Gibson said she decided on an after-work 6 p.m. happy-hour time frame rather than the Scottish lunchtime, figuring American workers were less inclined to take an hour out of their day at noon and down a pint (though the crowds at WXPN's giddy and boozy Free at Noon Friday shows would suggest otherwise.)
On Tuesday of the first week, Leigh Goldenberg noted that the time frame of the play allowed her to see the play, enjoy its accoutrements, and be "at the bar by the time Ben Francisco hit his home run" (a moot point by week two, alas).
In any case, Gibson has two more weeks in this inaugural run. This week, the play is Fly Me to the Moon, by Marie Jones of Ireland, which had a successful run at "A Play, a Pie and a Pint" in Scotland, and the final week is The Ching Room by Alan Bissett of Scotland.
She is fond of the one-act form, which she said she hadn't seen much of in Philadelphia.
"We get 10-minute plays and full-length," she said. "Ten minutes doesn't do it. One act fits in with everyone's schedule."
Gibson said she was planning a second season for the spring. She got the idea, and the name, from a series at the Oran Mor performance space in Glasgow, where "A Play, a Pie and a Pint" was started in 2004 after cuts to arts funding. That series has produced more than 200 lunchtime plays.
The transition to happy hour in Philadelphia seems to have been seamless, aided by a bagpiper stationed outside and a pianist playing British pop tunes on an upright inside, plus those donations from Yards and Kennett.
"I'm all for lunchtime drinking because I'm British, maybe," said Gibson 43, who moved to Malvern with her husband after he got a job at a biotech company. (He also has been recruited as the evening pizza server.) "Certainly it's something I haven't seen happen a lot over here. I feel like Americans have a much more intense workday. I didn't feel like people could justify an hour and maybe drinking."
Henninge Bisson, 29, who works at the nearby Brauhaus, attended the play during Week Two after a patron walked into the Brauhaus having clearly had a good time.
Her friend, Elizabeth Maguire, 21, broke down the experience in order of importance. "The play, but then the pint, and then the pie. That pie was pretty darn good."