Twenty years after ‘Harry’s’


Sequel to play set in Youngstown will get a script reading

By GUY D’ASTOLFO

dastolfo@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

“Harry’s Friendly Service,” the play set in Youngstown at the onset of the steel industry collapse, has had successful runs in Youngstown and Pittsburgh.

But Rob Zellers, the Boardman native who wrote the play, wasn’t done with the characters.

So he has written a sequel, titled “The Happiness They Seek,” which picks up about 20 years after “Harry’s” – in the mid-1990s. “Happiness” will get a table reading at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Youngstown Playhouse.

Several of the area’s top actors will read the script (admission is free). The reading is part of the fine-tuning process necessary to bring a new play to the stage. Audience members will have the opportunity to share their thoughts and recommendations with the playwright.

The protagonist of “Happiness” is Emily, the daughter of the gruff Harry, who ran the downtown Youngstown gas station that was a hangout for his card-playing pals. She is the only character from “Harry’s” that is in the sequel.

A lot has changed since the original. The city’s economy is in full collapse, and times are tough.

Emily, who showed signs of becoming an activist in “Harry’s,” is a full-fledged one now. She heads up a food bank that helps unemployed steelworkers and others.

As the play begins, the food bank has been robbed of its food. Also, a private equity firm – led by Dominic Carducci, a Wall Street type and the son of the local Youngstown mobster seen in “Harry’s” – is trying to buy out the last-remaining operating steel mill in the city and sell it off.

“Dominic is the opposite of his dad, just like Emily is the opposite of hers,” said Zellers. Despite being on different sides of the steel-mill issue, the two develop a complicated and romantic relationship.

At the end of “Harry’s,” Emily and John – a young lawyer who was part of the gas-station gang – began a relationship. But by the time “Happiness” begins, John has long ago left her, leaving behind a son, Charlie, who is now 18. Charlie has a troubled girlfriend named Sarah.

Also in the cast are Moose, an ex-steelworker who hangs around the food bank; and Bill, a banker who is working on the acquisition of the steel mill.

As in “Harry’s,” the city of Youngstown is an ever-present backdrop and a virtual character.

Zellers said he felt a need to write the play.

“‘Harry’s Friendly Service’ felt like it was unfinished,” he said. “We had just had Black Monday [the day in 1977 when Youngstown Sheet and Tube announced it was closing], and the dominos were about to start falling. So I said, ‘Let’s pick up 20 years later.’ Things have only gotten worse, and we are scraping bottom when the play opens.”

Zellers said the play has Youngstown at its core.

“It’s a crazy, somewhat convoluted plot that will be fun for the audience and keep them involved and thinking about these characters who represent our hometown,” he said.

Sunday’s reading will be directed by Pat Foltz, with stage directions read by John Pecano.

Reading the roles will be Laura Collins Phillips (Emily), John Cox (Dominic), Matthew Mazuroski (Bill), Nick Mulichak (Moose), Nicholas Wix (Charlie) and Lexi Denney (Sarah).

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