Local playwright pens musical journey

A new play writ­ten by and star­ring a Port Rich­mond man premi­eres this week, tak­ing audi­ences on a "kal­eido­scop­ic jour­ney of memory."

Jerry Per­na, who lives in Port Rich­mond, spent many years writ­ing “The Mu­sic You Re­mem­ber,” in which he also stars. It plays at The Ad­rienne through Oc­to­ber. MI­KALA JAM­IS­ON / STAR PHOTO

The writer Brander Mat­thews said that the art of the play­wright is much like the art of the ar­chi­tect. A plot, he said, has to be built just as a house is built — “story after story.” 

Lay­ers, then, are cru­cial; a piece of theatre isn’t a one-di­men­sion­al present­a­tion.

That’s at least how Port Rich­mond play­wright Jerry Per­na thinks of it, he at­tests. He’s writ­ten and stars in “The Mu­sic You Re­mem­ber,” a play run­ning through Oc­to­ber at The Ad­rienne Theat­er that cel­eb­rates the pop­u­lar mu­sic of the 60s, but has deep­er mes­sages bey­ond what Per­na calls “campy fun.” 

“As a writer, it didn’t in­terest me to just write a re­vue [of 60s mu­sic],” Per­na told Star at his Camp­bell Square-ad­ja­cent home earli­er this month. “I wanted to build a story about how mu­sic af­fected him.”

The “him” be­ing the play’s main char­ac­ter, Paul Di­olio, played by Per­na him­self. “The Mu­sic You Re­mem­ber,” dir­ec­ted by Ben­jamin Lloyd, is fo­cused on the struggles of Di­olio, a pro­fess­or of mu­sic who loses his ten­ure, his girl­friend and his car, all in one day. 

The down-on-his-luck Di­olio is joined by young teach­ing as­sist­ant Sally to teach his fi­nal class. Sally, played by Kristen Bailey, ends up pos­sess­ing a more su­per­nat­ur­al qual­ity that leads Di­olio on a “kal­eido­scop­ic jour­ney of memory.” 

That jour­ney in­cludes on-stage pro­jec­tions of clips from songs and films from the 60s era. 

“I wanted to en­gage the senses,” Per­na said. “If you’re un­der 65, it’s all about movies and TV.” 

“The Mu­sic You Re­mem­ber” finds its lay­ers, then, in more than just a fond look at pop­u­lar mu­sic of the past. It’s also cau­tion­ary tale, Per­na said, about the dangers of nos­tal­gia.

“The tech­no­lo­gic­al in­nov­a­tions in the past 30 years have been great­er than those in the past 250,” he said. “There’s a big seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion, a lot of folks my age and older, who are made un­easy by that.”

Per­na ex­plained that in his be­loved home in Port Rich­mond, there’s an Old-World sens­ib­il­ity among the hearty Pol­ish pop­u­la­tion. While he’s much ap­pre­ci­at­ive of it, he said, he also wants this play to be a re­mind­er to folks not to get stuck in the past.

“Don’t get too deep in­to how great the ‘old days’ were,” he said. “They might not have been so great for every­one — Afric­an Amer­ic­ans, wo­men … now, with great­er di­versity, there’s a great­er op­por­tun­ity for learn­ing.”

In­deed, the show doesn’t fo­cus only on the mu­sic of the 60’s — Per­na, makes com­par­is­ons between pop mu­sic icons of that time to those of today. There’s men­tion of both Burt Bachar­ach and Justin Bieber. 

A little something for every­one, eh? 

The play, Per­na said, does pull in­spir­a­tion from his own life, of course, mainly in his at­tach­ment to mu­sic and the act­ors he wanted to emu­late in his own ca­reer.

“I re­mem­ber watch­ing movies and TV in the 60s, the chan­nel 10 af­ter­noon movies … they were in­cred­ible in­spir­a­tions,” Per­na said.

“I grew up with ex­pos­ure to lots of dif­fer­ent types of mu­sic, [from] rock, to Mo­town, to the Beach Boys. I listened to the Top 40,” he con­tin­ued. 

Per­na, who grew up in Lans­downe, be­came in­volved with theatre when he was about 14 years old, he said. He’s al­ways worked in theatre in one way or an­oth­er, and right now, it’s his full-time job. 

He’s worked with big names — he once worked on a film with Mickey Rooney, and had a small part in “Sil­ver Lin­ings Play­book,” along­side Brad­ley Cooper. 

At the heart of his cur­rent work, though, is how mu­sic af­fects the per­son­al jour­ney of hu­mans.

“This [Di­olio] char­ac­ter is someone try­ing to find some emo­tion­al solace in mu­sic,” Per­na said. “The mu­sic a man hears at age 5 stays with him for the rest of his life.”

At his home, Per­na read aloud a few scenes from the play. One seems to most aptly de­scribe the sen­ti­ment of Di­olio, and per­haps Per­na him­self:

“A lost song really is a tragedy.” **

“The Mu­sic You Re­mem­ber” will run Oct. 3, Oct. 8, 10, and 18 at 7:30 p.m., as well as Oct. 5, 13 and 19 at 2 p.m., Oct. 5 at 8 p.m., and Oct. 13 and 20 at 7 p.m., all at The Ad­rienne, 2030 Sansom St. There will be a spe­cial In­dustry Night per­form­ance on Oct. 14 at 9 p.m. 

For tick­ets ($20-$30) and in­form­a­tion, call 800-838-3006, or vis­it www.whitep­ine­spro­duc­tions.org/MYRLK

You can reach at mjamison@bsmphilly.com.

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