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NYC theater critic recalls how his story began in Arlington

Peter FelichiaFelichia

Talk held at Friends of the Drama

For Peter Filichia, his connections to theater and to Arlington are strong as a thunderous curtain-call ovation.

The longtime drama critic in New York who is coming to the Arlington Friends of the Drama to discuss his trade -- Spalding Gray style -- at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 27, reflects on how his connection to stage began, at Arlington Catholic.

Like Gray, whose one-man show "A Personal History of American Theater" was delivered as he sat at a table and pulled out oversized index cards at random , Filichia will talk about reviewing based on what a card says.

Filichia, 67, who soon expects to see his 10,000th stage show, said in a telephone interview with YourArlington that he "likes to stack the deck" as he provide his own personal history of the theater. That is, the first card he pulls goes back to the beginning of his love for theater. 

Back on Adams Street

That would be in the late 1950s. Family friends Edith and Phil LaGrassa lived on Adams Street and had scads of records of Broadway shows -- from the serious ("A Raisin in the Sun") or the frivolous ("Damn Yankees").

"That's where I heard first heard those songs," he said of his friends. "That's where it started."

Cover of Strippers, Showgirls and SharksHis most recently published book, his 20th -- Strippers, Show Girls, Sharks  -- is dedicated to the LaGrassas.

Originally a self-described "rock-'n-roll kid," he switched gears after he heard tunes from "My Fair Lady," "Oklahoma" and "Music Man."

Part of the first graduating class at Arlington Catholic, he took advantage of what he calls "a funky thing": When AC opened in 1960, only freshmen were in the class.

"We were big shots for four years," he said, and he was president of drama club for that period.

And what did AC stage at that time? With relish, Filichia said, "'The Bracelet of Doom,' a nonroyalty play.

Drama at AC -- and after at AHS

He also began writing plays.

After Arlington Catholic, he went Boston State (now UMass/Boston). By chance, on a staircase, he met Dennis Mahoney, who he knew from AC and who had become editor of college paper. Mahoney recalled that Filichia loved theater and suggested he write reviews.

So he did -- and that has continued, going on 50 years. Filichia has seen theater in 42 states and 14 foreign countries, and has managed to see as many as 365 stage shows in a single year.

His writing charged on during the years he taught English at Arlington High, from 1969 to 1977.

Working with school's drama club and longtime director Frank Roberts -- "We had nice success together" -- Filichia wrote three plays, whose performances gained notice during the annual state high school drama competition:

"Culture Vulture" was a regional winner, and "Danish Modern" "did well," he said.

Winning all of the marbles in 1973 was "Games."

Roberts died in 2010, and Filichia spoke at the memorial service.

In 1975, after a town official got in touch, he and Pat Tassone collaborated on an Arlington bicentennial show titled "It Happened Here," performed at Lowe Auditorium.

Two years later, Filichia moved on to New York City and a career of reviewing Broadway -- the subject of his AFD appearance Oct. 27.

Attendees could have questions about Filichia's dealings with a pleasant celebrity (Jerry Orbach), one who was less so (Mary Tyler Moore) or one who was a little sneaky (Steve Allen).

But will his audience ask? Filichia expects so.

"I’m a pretty welcoming guy," he said.

What's more, he expects those from his Arlington past -- students, classmates and colleagues.

On Nov. 9, the AHS class of 1973 -- remember "Games" that year? -- will have its 40th reunion, and Filichia will be there.

"I'm Very sentimental," he said.

What’s it like to be a theater critic? Ask. Or let Peter pick a card.

The AFD Theatre is at 22 Academy St.


For more about Felichia, see Wikipedia and www.kritzerland.com/filichia.htm.


This story was published Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013.

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