by Andrew Barrett
So I ask Peter, what it is exactly that he does, "theater criticism or theater journalism?" He answers, "Theater journalism is truly much more wanted now than theater criticism. I really do feel that theater journalism does mean that you have to take the reader to that performance you were at; let them see what you saw. As opposed to theater criticism where you try to make it better. There's a part of me that's much more dramaturgical, and I don't know if I have the right. I've seen so many readings where the Artistic Director will get up after the play and say, 'Now we are not going to help the writer rewrite his play.' I sort of don't understand that. I think we should. There is such a thing as reviewing and there is such a thing as dramatic criticism. Reviews are what papers should be printing. But for my Theatre.com column I focus more on criticism and not so much on reviewing. It's very nice to have both outlets. I write 10,11, articles a week. I write one a day for Theatre.com and for the paper I sometimes have to do as many as 5 per week. So this is really all I do with my life. Which is fine."
But life for Peter was not always the opening to Little Mary Sunshine. When asked what was the direst thing he ever did to get into a show (before he was a critic) his answer, in the tone of a Sondheim character, reveals much about his past. "Company was trying out in Boston. I was married at the time - I was putting my wife through school - I was only a schoolteacher at the time making probably $8,000 a year. We were dead broke - but this was the new Stephen Sondheim musical and he hadn't written in 5 years. And I liked Sondheim - I thought, 'That Anyone Can Whistle show was awfully good.' I didn't see it - but the album was very good. So we went up to the box office at the Shubert Theatre and I said I lost my seats, 'We're seats D2, 4 in the balcony.' And they said, 'All right. We'll put you in. But if anyone comes with seats D2, 4 we have to throw you out.' I'm telling you, for the first 15 minutes of the show I didn't enjoy it at all. Every time the usher came down with latecomers I thought, 'This is it, this it.' I think we were well into 'Sorry-Grateful' before I could relax.I was married 14 months at the time, and I remember that song having a big impact because it really expressed what I was already feeling at that point in my marriage. That song made me start worrying about the outside world. That theater could do that."
Peter and Linda
Peter's divorce is not something he shies away from talking about, but it is his 23 year relationship with Linda Konner, a very successful book agent, that brings the light back into his eye. Peter and Linda met in the BMI workshop, helping dispel the myth that Linda, as they say in "All About Eve" is "Theater by marriage." In fact, out of the some 300 shows Peter sees in the course of one year, Linda is there for at least 1/3 of them - anything with Bob Cuccioli, but no Restoration comedies! This unique relationship is not something I am the first to inquire about. In fact, together they were on The Sally Jesse Raphael Show sharing their secret. Peter shares:
"Linda had a history of going to the theater before I met her, thank God, and in fact, it was she, on our first date, who said, 'You know I can never remember the third girl in Company who sings 'You Can Drive A Person Crazy.' I was the one who came up with Pam Meyers name. She loved Broadway. And that's great. Occasionally she would say to me with no rancor whatsoever, 'You love Broadway more than you love me.' And I say, 'I did know Broadway 17 years before I knew you. So, what can I do?' One of the reasons we've been together 23 years certainly is the fact we don't live together. I like a cool apartment. She likes it hot. I like to play the same song in the CD player over and over and over again which would turn her into one of the merry murderesses from Chicago. 'You play that song one more time ... ' And no jury in the country would convict her, either! So we don't live together. But what's wonderful about the relationship is we have improved each other. She doesn't want marriage - thank God. She doesn't want children - thank God. I'm very happy about that because I like my life the way it is - as carefree as it can possibly be. I guarantee you if I had a kid I wouldn't be writing a column everyday. I wouldn't have the time and the energy."
But Peter does have a son, Jason, 28, who is a member of a punk rock band Peter says, is aptly named, "'Chapter 11!' The moment Jason leaves my apartment I play Mame or Dolly. It purges the air because he puts on things that sound like four hermaphrodites living in hell. So as a result the moment he leaves I've got to go to the basest, Broadway, razz-ma-taz level." Inspired by the mention of his son and the younger generation, I ask Peter what he thinks of the Internet and what it did or did not do to the Seussical. He does not hesitate for a moment. He says, "You have to remember it affected The Full Monty in a positive way and it seems to be affecting The Producers in a positive way as well. So, you can live by the sword and die by the sword, too. More knowledge is helpful. I did feel that once the Seussical creators stopped doing performances and started doing work that's when everyone should have given them a break and I even wrote that, too. Because it wasn't going to be the same show everyone was writing these bad things about."
"But this is the world today. It's fair game. Let them talk. Let them write. It's wonderful to hear the reports! We use to make the phone calls. For all the talk of going out of town and getting away from everybody - I mean how did we hear about Mike Todd saying, 'No girls, No gags, No chance' about Oklahoma? That was the Internet at the time. It's definitely a positive force. Even for shows that are not doing well. The public has a right to know. People have a right to talk. This is just another medium. And that's all there is to it. I don't know about shows going out of town anymore, and that's what pains me. Because there is nothing, nothing that I enjoy better than being at a performance when it's trying out. Now, that's really not going to happen as much because it really doesn't seem to make much of a difference. The world is wide open. Still, God bless the Internet. It's not going away so let's come to terms with it."
Our lunch chat continues with talk of the new crop of writers for the musical theater, plays that affected his life, including Mary, Mary by Jean Kerr. We talk about "What if Bock and Harnick were still writing together?" He tried to bring up baseball, but I steer the conversation back to Linda again. His love for her is found in his words, "She's an amazing woman because both her parents were deaf. One by disease and one by accident - they weren't born deaf. As a result there was no danger of her being deaf. But what's interesting is because both of her parents were deaf she was the one, at an early age, who had to deal with the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker. Her mother would say, 'Go over and do this and that.' Linda would go over and of course people would feel so bad for this little girl who was negotiating for her deaf mother they gave her anything she wanted. Linda got used to at an early age getting anything she wanted from people and that's why today she's very successful. She knows that no matter what people offer the first question you ask is, 'Is that the best you can do?'"
As Peter repeats Linda's mantra, it strikes me that she has done pretty well for herself - landing Peter Filichia. Here is a man who humbly admits to some nice attempts at writing musicals, who admits to not having a sense of the business, and acknowledges this as perhaps the reason why he's positive as a writer, because he knows what writers go through; he's been through it. Here is this kind, intelligent, encouraging, carefree, accepting man who believes that every time the lights dim it could be an experience as thrilling as the first time he saw The Glass Menagerie. Here is a man who has devoted his life to preserving that moment when the scrim lit and revealed the new and improved Henry Higgins as he moved through Covent Garden and uttered lyrics that might have well been, "Welcome to theater, Peter. From this moment forward your life will never be the same. And everyone you meet, no matter where you are, no matter who they are, will be the better because of it."