THREE MEN AND A COAT
By Sally Deering
You wouldn’t think a play about a coat could be captivating enough to hold your attention, but with actor Frank Rosner and director Minna Packer, UNCLE PHILIP’S COAT is in good hands. Presented at the Hudson School’s performance space in Hoboken from Dec. 19-21, UNCLE PHILIP’S COAT author Matty Selman based it on his grand-uncle whom he remembers as the ‘King of Coney Island’ who would stand on the boardwalk, play the kazoo and sell bras to women from his suitcase.
“My grand-uncle Philip on my mother’s side is described in my play, a “luftmensch” – someone who lives on air with his head in the clouds and his feet in the sewers,” Selman says. “If he were alive today, he would probably be cast off as a near homeless person, but to me, as a child, he loomed like the King of Coney Island. He would visit us (always around dinner time!) and set out his wares on our coffee table, taking unbelievable amounts of candy, cigars, yo-yos, bras, pens and fly swatters out of his voluminous coat pockets.”
Selman had a special relationship with my uncle, he says, which is evident in the play.
“I cared for him,” Selman says. “I used to pick him up – literally from the streets, bring him to my apartment, feed him, buy him clean clothes and listen to his stories. Stories that made me laugh and cry. As in the play, he survived a Russian pogrom and saw things as a child that remained in him until he died. In reflecting on the play and on the metaphor of this coat – this garment of dreamers, I am brought once again, to the melting pot that comprises the faces, stories, the heart of what we are as a country. Everyone has an Uncle Philip. Everyone knows a dreamer. And there is great value in those lives on the fringe, who find it hard to survive beyond their dreams.”
In Packer’s production, of UNCLE PHILIP’S COAT, Rosner, an accomplished actor who resides in Hoboken and has performed in theater both here and in New York, brings insight, compassion and humor to the roles of Uncle Philip; his brother and nephew. It’s a tour-de-force performance and one that Rosner has been exploring during the two years he’s worked on the piece with Packer.
“The uncle has died and left the coat to his nephew,” Rosner says. “The coat is the glue that connects them.”
During the two years they’ve been working on the play, Rosner and Packer explored the text’s deeper meanings and the relationships between Uncle Philip, his brother and nephew, finding new things to infuse in Rosner’s performance, and honing certain moments that help tell Selman’s personal story about his uncle.
“We have been consistently working on it,” Packer says. “It’s been a pleasure working with Frank, finding new things about the characters, exploring and analyzing as we go along.”
Packer has known Selman since they attended high school together and has always been a fan of his work, she says.
“The play is beautifully written,” Packer says. “Matty’s a wonderful playwright.”
Selman is looking forward to seeing this production of his play, which he says holds a special meaning to him and the uncle he cherishes.
“This piece is probably as close to my heart as anything I’ve ever written or hope to write,” Selman says. “It is about humanity, about the profound value of a man as opposed to what society thinks he’s worth.”
If you go:
Fri, Dec. 19 and Sat, Dec. 20 at 8 pm; Sun, Dec. 21 at 3 pm
Uncle Philip’s Coat
The Hudson School performance space
601 Hudson Street
Tix: $10 at the door
For more info: firstname.lastname@example.org