All Things Entertaining and Cultural
In his college days, Tony Braithwaite warned a less ambitious classmate that if he wasn’t more diligent, he would end up teaching freshman English at his high school alma mater for minimum wage. Braithwaite, following his graduation, went to Hollywood where he was a finalist for the role of Chandler, landed by Matthew Perry, in the TV series, “Friends.” In a “there but for fortune” twist, Braithwaite returned home and took a job teaching freshmen at his alma mater, Philadelphia’s St. Joseph’s Prep, at a wage more minimum than he’d used in his warning. The difference was instead of English, Tony was assigned to teach those naturally compatible subjects, religion and sex education.
The St. Joe’s gig lasted 12 years, during which Tony saved test papers with funny answers, took note of both adolescent confusion and prowess, fielded questions that challenged his ability to keep a straight face, and listened to boys who discussed serious matters they didn’t believe they could take to their parents.
These experiences have been collected and organized for a one-man routine, “Didn’t Your Father Have This Talk With You?,” an hourlong aria that reveals Braithwaite’s keen powers of observation and prodigious talent as a comic storyteller. Incidents related are funny. Braithwaite’s delivery is even funnier. His performance shows his discipline as a writer and his timing as a comic. “Didn’t Your Father Have This Talk With You?” is more of an act than a play, but it has enough variety to keep it flowing breezily and enough levels to keep it interesting. In word and attitude, Braithwaite knows how to keep his material funny. Laughs are abundant and justified. Braithwaite knows how to entertain, and some of the structure he uses for his story, and the sardonic turn of some punch lines and afterthoughts, show that Tony might have made a worthy Chandler Bing.
Braithwaite is wise to use the classroom as a jumping off point for a bigger story. Rarely does he show himself teaching a class. The substance of the piece mostly involves things that happened while he was teaching. His Prep students must have been pretty sharp, and some of their side comments add to the humor. Braithwaite is also aided by tapes of his father giving advice, commenting on the proceedings, and giving his side of stories in which he is mentioned.
Braithwaite, as would be expected, does not only talk about what his students learned from him. He mentions how the sensitivity of teenaged boys, even those who displayed bravado, and the intellectual style of the Jesuits who ran St. Joe’s influenced his style of communication and the further development of his amply formed sense of humor.
“Didn’t Your Father Have This Talk With You?” is a charmer. It more than amuses. It engages. And it’s more than mild in its humor. Braithwaite keeps his audience laughing non-stop. Tony’s teaching and acting experience has obviously taught him the value and practice of entertainment, and he entertains with the skill and aplomb of a master.
Comedy dominates the hour, but Braithwaite also takes time to build in a poignant and effective sequence about three young men who come to him with pressing dilemmas. Besides illustrating the problems one can have and need to reveal at age 18 or younger, this passage achieves extra depth as Tony portrays all three boys in series, their questions and concerns separated and punctuated by his answers, or the answers he wished he’d given.
In the best way, the hour “Didn’t Your Father Have This Talk With You?” takes seems longer than the time actually passed. It isn’t because anything drags. The show scoots on amiably and never flags. It’s because Braithwaite, ably directed by Mary Carpenter, offers so much and paces his material so well, it feels inconceivable that only an hour has elapsed.
Like other shows Braithwaite has composed, this one is as much about Tony as anything else, but he makes sure he keeps himself as interesting to the audience as he is to himself. The great thing about a piece like this for a performer is he can market it to various venues and turn it into a sinecure if he needs one.
Didn’t Your Father Have This Talk With You? Runs, after adding a week extension, through Friday, October 11, at Act II Playhouse, 56 East Butler Avenue, in Ambler, Pa. Braithwaite is the theater’s artistic director. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and 2 p.m. Wednesday (during September), Saturday, and Sunday. There is a 7 p.m. show on Sunday, Sept. 29. Tickets range from $34 to $27 and can be ordered by calling 215-654-0200 or going online to http://www.act2.org.