Jersey playwright finds unique way to recall 1964 Phillies' epic collapse

Lou Mascolo sets his characters' trajectory against "The Year the Phillies Blew the Pennant."
Lou Mascolo sets his characters' trajectory against "The Year the Phillies Blew the Pennant."
Posted: August 01, 2014

BEGINNING IN a month or so, local media outlets will be tripping over one other in order to yet again tell the story of how the 1964 Phillies let what seemed to be a mortal lock on the National League pennant and a showdown with the New York Yankees in that year's World Series slip out of their hands. But a South Jersey playwright has already been there and done that.

In June, Vineland's Lou Mascolo had his play, "The Year the Phillies Blew the Pennant," staged at the Ashley McCormick Entertainment Center in Bridgeton, N.J. Despite its title, the drama isn't a documentary about the season that horrifically concluded with the infamous 10-game losing streak that ignited the bonfire upon which an entire region's hopes and dreams burned to ashes. Instead, the story - about a working class family's trials and tribulations - plays out against the Phils' unprecedented riches-to-rags story.

That the plot takes a tragic turn on Sept. 21 - the day the losing streak commenced when the Cincinnati Reds' Chico Ruiz stole home to manufacture the only run of the game - is a good example of what Mascolo, a veteran editor and journalist with a theater background, intended to do with his play.

"The Phillies backdrop provides a good metaphor for the character's life," offered Mascolo, 68, during a recent phone chat.

"Being how I'm from the Philadelphia area, I always followed the Phillies, and the '64 collapse was a monster disappointment for everybody. It left an indelible impression in my head as a complete failure. So I thought it would be a good metaphor for [the main character's] life. He comes into some really good fortune, and in the end he blows everything. He loses the fortune, he loses his friends. His life basically collapses."

Not that the author, a Vineland native, was quite as preoccupied with the team at the end of the '64 season as were so many other Phanatics of the day.

"I was just going into college and was really preoccupied with that whole transition in life," he explained. "Fortunately, I didn't pay as much attention as I normally would have to the Phillies. But nevertheless, it was still crushing when they lost because we were all looking forward to the World Series."

Still, Mascolo admitted, the 10-game losing streak, which resulted in a second-place finish (the St. Louis Cardinals ultimately beat the Yankees in the World Series; this was before the multiseries playoff structure was in place), continues to sting his psyche.

"I grew up in the '50s," he said. "Every year they were in last place. We never had a winner. So it was a lot of built-up anticipation after a decade of losing. Now, we're finally going to win it after years of watching last-place teams, and they blow it. It was a buildup of expectations that collapsed."

According to Mascolo, who studied theater at New York University, his game plan is to stage the piece in Philadelphia, where, he assumes, it will find an appreciative audience. "Right now, we are looking at Philadelphia. We have some theaters we've approached because we want to get it to Philadelphia, but we may have one stop before that. We may do it at the Landis [Theater] in Vineland and give it one more shot before we take it to Philadelphia."

Noting that he is thinking about funding a Philly run through the website Kickstarter, Mascolo added he is quite optimistic about his play's future.

"The show has gotten a lot of great attention and that's allowed me to move on to the next step," he said. "I'm very happy about that."

'Death' with a twist

Another production of "Death of a Salesman" isn't necessarily big news, but the version of the classic Arthur Miller drama being staged by GoKash Productions at Plays & Players does merit a mention because it's an all-African-American presentation.

This iteration, which runs through Aug. 17, is inspired by the 2009 Yale University production that starred Charles S. Dutton as Willy Loman. The role is being played by Kash Goins, who also doubles as the show's producer.

Plays & Players, 1714 Delancey Place, through Aug. 17, 8 p.m. Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, $27-$35,

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