Flop-Sweat and Heroin: A Preview of the Chris Farley Play

On Monday evening, a near-capacity crowd gathered at the 248-seat Players Theatre in the Village to watch an industry reading of The Fatman Cometh, a play about the death of former Saturday Night Live star Chris Farley. The stage, a bare-bones representation of Farley’s dressing room at 30 Rock, was set with two end tables covered in papers and Budweiser cans. Later in the performance, one of the tables would grow dusty with ersatz cocaine, snorted by Farley and his fictional manager Kip K. Kaplan–played, respectively, by Alan Pagano and Carlo Riviecco, friends from Staten Island’s Warner College who cowrote the story.

“Everything going on with Charlie Sheen makes people realize the time is right–but what am I going to say, that the time isn’t right?,” the show’s director and playwright Charles Messina told The Observer after the performance.

The purpose of the reading was to find Fatman a producer–attendees included Cheryl Wiesenfeld (Legally Blonde) and Bruce Robert Harris (The Scottsboro Boys)–and it may have succeeded. Running an abbreviated 70 minutes, the performance received an enthusiastic response. Riviecco got the biggest laugh of the night, pantomiming how a prostitute might accommodate Farley’s large stomach.

Another highlight for the audience came when Farley, dressed a flowered dress and curly wig from the SNL “Zagat’s” sketch, refuses to discuss another proposed bit, explaining, “I have my pride!” A stage direction read aloud by a Don Pardo impressionist regarding a “fight over the possession of the heroin bag” also provoked guffaws. (The Observer couldn’t help wondering if, even 14 years after Farley’s death, it wasn’t still a little too soon.) Only shortly later in the show, the same bag would provide Farley with his fatal last injection.

Mr. Pagano said he hadn’t wanted to imitate Farley too closely, though the show began with a wordless restaging of the comedian’s frantic Chippendales dance, which left the actor drenched, Farley-like, in flop-sweat. “Frank Langella doesn’t really look like Nixon,” he explained. “Impersonation is the worst thing you can do.”

Fatman takes some poetic license with the details of Farley’s life. For instance, in the play, Farley seems to die in his dressing room at SNL, whereas he actually overdosed in Chicago, years after leaving he show. Mr. Riviecco was asked how the pair did their research. “To an extent, Wikipedia will bring you to a lot of things,” he said. “But if you hear something on E! True Hollywood Story, then you hear it somewhere else, that’s something!”

ddaddario@observer.com :: @DPD_

Flop-Sweat and Heroin: A Preview of the Chris Farley Play