Playwright uses his life experiences Play to be staged in March
JOAN HRITZ STAFF WRITER
THE HOME NEWS AND TRIBUNE
"I'm a high school dropout. I actually was in reform school as a kid," said the North Brunswick resident. Ironically, "it was the best experience of my life," he said of his tenure at Lincoln Hall in Lincolndale, N.Y.
Perricone eventually made use of his youthful experiences in plays like his latest, "The Redemption of Fawler Mulrae," to be staged next month at the Eatontown Playhouse in Eatontown. "Redemption" deals with surviving violence. It focuses on a former juvenile delinquent who has a rewarding career and loving family but is haunted by his past.
Given the opportunity to encourage boys at his old reform school to achieve better lives, the main character, Fawler, tries to help a brilliant African-American teen whose horrific act will cost the youth a lifetime in institutions. Through that teen, Fawler finally faces the demons of his own past.
Perricone has been a playwright since 1999. "Redemption" was written in 2001. Becoming a playwright "was a fluke. It was a dare," he said. In 1999, he was working in an advertising agency with someone involved with East Brunswick's Playhouse 22, who "dared me to write a play, so I wrote `The Last White Family on Dorchester Road.'" The play, about a dysfunctional Brooklyn family dealing with alcohol and drug addiction, was accepted for a reading as part of the new playwright series at the Villagers Theater in Somerset.
"Something other than myself determined my destiny. I knew nothing about theater, nothing about lighting, nothing about staging. Community theater was my college education in theater," he said. Perricone has written 21 plays and his latest is his seventh staged production. His plays have been staged in Eatontown, Chatham and Kansas City, Mo. "I was a chronic truant. I wasn't a criminal," said the Brooklyn native. Starting with sixth grade, he never attended school on a regular basis. "I went to eighth grade in reform school," says the now 45-year-old playwright. "I came from the ultimate dysfunctional family." His mother left when he was 10 and his father worked nights while trying to raise Perricone and his four siblings.
"We ran amuck," he said. "We lived in a crime-ridden neighborhood." He was sent to Lincoln Hall "when the courts stepped in. I was always being chased by truant officers." Instead of attending school, "I rode the subways all over. I used to go to libraries. If there was a neighborhood I was curious about, I'd go there. Sometimes I was just home." He occasionally attended class at a Brooklyn high school, required to go until age 16. The day after his 16th birthday on May 14 spelled the end of his school attendance.
"You learn how to work the system. I went to school just enough to keep the authorities away so I wouldn't get placed back in reform school. "I was a kid. I didn't have any guidance. I'm a little like a guy who can't read music but can play the piano," he said. It wasn't that he hated school but he "was indifferent to education," said Perricone. Eventually, he discovered that he was dyslexic but that issue has been resolved. "My wife is my editor," he said of Patti, a legal secretary who corrects the errors caused by his dyslexia. "I can read perfectly" but will leave words out when typing on his computer.
His extensive vocabulary came "from my mother," he said. Over the years, he has held various jobs, in fields like advertising and as a head hunter. Perricone now works in marketing for the Contract Leasing Corp. in Piscataway, a trailer leasing and purchasing company. "They really accommodate my play stuff. I don't have to work past 5 o'clock," he said. As an adult, he was asked to speak to the kids at Lincolndale Hall who "were only concerned with the moment, with no thoughts of the future," he said. Perricone said it was disheartening to realize that most of the youngsters there probably would end up "dead, in jail or junkies." In 1986, he wrote a novel, as yet unpublished, that was set in a reform school.
He also authored another novel. Although not a father, "I have 21 children. My plays are like having children. They demand my attention. Though he has mainly written tragedies and dramas, he also has written a few short comedies like "Enter Queen Gertrude." Perricone, a 20-year resident of North Brunswick, believes "there is not enough tragedy or drama in American theater" which "disproportionately favors comedies or musicals."
"I'm of a serious bent," favoring the works of Henry Miller, Ayn Rand and Ernest Hemingway, Perricone said.
Perricone now the Eatontown Playhouse permanent playwright-in-residence is a member of the theater's board of directors. He has been nominated several times for the Perry Award given the New Jersey Association of Community Theaters. A representative of the National Drama Library of South Africa saw "Redemption" on the Web site called Dramatic Exchange and e-mailed Perricone to say the play was being placed in the drama library files.
As for his plays, "the earlier ones are embellished events of my own life. Newer ones deal with more contemporary issues" such as generational or women's relationships, he said. He is a member of the Dramatists Guild of America and his works have been featured in readings at that organization's New York City location. He is anticipating another reading there in October. Perricone wants `to create new challenges for himself. "I came into this not know anything about theater or anybody in theater," he said. Now, "I'm a fairly visible component of New Jersey community theater. I'm moving in the right direction.
"I've got a bunch of plays in my head I've got to sit down and put on paper," he said. "The Redemption of Fawler Mulrae," will be staged March 4-26 at the Eatontown Playhouse, Route 35 north, Eatontown. Performances will be 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. Additional information and tickets are available by calling (732) 888-0339. Joan Hritz: (732) 565-7274; jhritz@ thnt.com