Not that kind of “benefits” …
We chatted with Playwright Bill Doncaster about taking this tale of loyalty, betrayal and Bobby Orr to the stage. Stickball Productions presents Friends of Eddie Coyle, opening Thursday at the Oberon.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JACK CALABRESE
Before it was the greatest Boston crime movie (or at least in the top three), Friends of Eddie Coyle was a book by prolific author, deputy United States Attorney and newspaper man George V. Higgins. Playwright Bill Doncaster went back to the original tome to bring the intricate tale of loyalty, betrayal and Bobby Orr to the stage.
I’ve been talking to you on Facebook as Eddie Coyle. Should I call you Eddie? Are we doing this in character?
My mother will eventually read the Dig, so no [laughs].
When did you and others get together and think of this? I know you were involved with the one at the Burren.
It was primarily me. If you start the process at the beginning, just 8 months, being alone, writing the script. And from there, got in touch with the estate, permission to do staging, which we got, and then it was all the people from there.
Did you look at the film script, or was this an adaptation of the book?
An adaptation of the book … and I actually started it a little before the DVD came out. I did watch the movie, mostly to make sure I wasn’t doing the same thing. I’m not really a big fan of recreating movies on stage. Movies and theater are different, and [the play’s] not a whacky reenactment, it’s pretty faithful. I didn’t want to recreate the flick. If you want to see the movie, rent the movie.
I just love the feel of [the book] and the writer was from the Herald, the original writer?
George, yeah. At the time he wrote “The Friends of Eddie Coyle,” he was a US prosecutor, US Attorney’s Office. He had been a reporter at AP and the Providence Journal, and then later was for the Herald and the Globe. He stayed a lawyer for years. And his client list, he actually defended G. Gordon Liddy during Watergate, and Eldridge Cleaver … and he was still writing novels, I think 30, before he passed away in ’99.
Any other ones you read of his?
I haven’t read all of them, I have read a lot of them. His third book, called Cogan’s Trade, started filming last Spring, with Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini … It’s directed by Andrew Dominik.
I’m actually pretty excited about it. One of the things I’m excited about is that it’s largely being called a comedy and with The Friends of Eddie Coyle, it’s damn funny. It’s hard to call it a comedy, because it’s not, but the dialogue just has a wicked sense of humor, and the film didn’t really capture that. In live theater, that’s easier to capture.
I’m still laughing my ass off in rehearsal.
I think what I liked most about the Coyle film, that’s something not that relevant to theater, was the photography. And that movie might be the best photographic record of how grimy Boston was at the time.
So how do you set it up on stage?
The bar is a big part. It’s hard to describe, but a lot of the focus has to do with the fact that these people are running all over the place. They’re almost never in the same place twice, and they’re basically running around all over eastern Massachussetts, having meetings, conducting business, trading guns, robbing banks, whatever they’re doing—which makes the Oberon kind of a cool place because they have catwalks, lots of floor space, and you can use the whole theater and not just stay on stage. It portrays the franticness of running around and not staying in one space, which was kind of the plan, because a big part of the story is around car culture. A lot of the action takes place in moving cars, parked cars. And there are ways to do cars on stage, and some of those can work with certain pieces, but not so much with gritty pieces. So I had to write the cars out, but still convey that they were running all over the place.
Did you have anyone in mind with the script? Did you have a few actors that came to you and said I want to be x or y?
They’re all pretty much hand-picked, we never really held auditions. A lot of people we worked with in the past, the guy playing Eddie [Paulo Branco] I’ve worked with the most. I actually had him in mind when I was writing it. Eddie’s one of the better “losers” I’ve ever read.
You’re saying you need a loser?
Paulo plays a loser really well [laughs].
Rick Park is playing Dillon. Rick’s usually known as a comic actor, he’s probably the best-known around town, he’s been around for a while, very good writer, one of the funniest people I know. I like the idea of comic actors being villain character … Jackie Gleason in Hustler and stuff like that is kind of fun. Everyone else are people who I’ve seen work from before, they’re all local, and fake Boston accents are always distracting as hell.
Yeah, no kidding [laughs]
It’s not so much that … Sometimes they’re good actors that put the Kennedy accent on when they’re supposed to be from Southie and things like that [laughs].
Are you going to record this?
No. When you record in theater, it’s just not the same thing,
Yeah, never really is, is it.
No, it’s not. Things that are hilarious in the room, and you hear the audience laughing in the room, it doesn’t get you as funny. And it’s just live. People performing in front of you, and there’s just things you can’t capture on tape.
There seems to be a lot of pictures of Paulo on the internet playing poker?
Paulo? [laughs] He didn’t have to research getting hammered and yelling for Bobby Orr at all.
Have you reached out to any of the original movie actors or any of the Bruins people?
I got a very nice good-luck call from Alex Rocco who played Jimmy Scalise in the movie, whose best-known for playing Moe Green in The Godfather. He’s originally from Somerville.
Oh, that’s perfect.
And he called me a month or so before the reading and wished me luck …
It made my life that he was on the phone.
You’ve got a pretty long run.
We’re doing eleven dates.
What do you wish people would ask you if they could?
I [laughs], I don’t know. What [Stickball Productions] is hoping is that people don’t go to the theater much take it in, the company has a mission statement of theater for new audiences.
That’s a good point, and there are certainly some locals that may not normally go but would really enjoy this.
It’s probably the best story we could think of to carry that out. Sometimes theater can get a little academic, it can take itself too seriously, or, on the other spectrum, wildly campy … and all of which are great, but a lot of those things turn off a lot of people. I can compare Eddie Coyle to Willie Loman in “Death of a Salesman,” and as much as you can talk about it in serious, literary terms
It’s still in the end about guns, beers and bodies [laughs].
Yeah, Eddie is sort of this classic theater archetype.
Yeah, it’s one of those kind of characters I find interesting. People who aren’t really nice people, that make their own mistakes, and completely deserve the fate they get, but you still feel sorry for them, like how do you not like Fredo Corleone in the Godfather, and everything he does is his own fault and he should have known better, but he still feel sorry for him. Those kind of characters are just cool.
THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE
PRESENTED BY STICKBALL PRODUCTIONS
OPENS THURSDAY 12.8.11
UNTIL SUNDAY 1.15.12