Comic Memoir Reopens Vineyard Playhouse

Oct 19, 2021

The Island performing arts scene passed a Covid-era milestone over the weekend, when the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse reopened for its first indoor performances since early 2020.

Fear of Heights, a one-man staged autobiography by comic and cable television host Kevin Flynn, drew audiences of close to 50 people on both Friday and Saturday nights, playhouse executive and artistic director MJ Bruder Munafo said.

“It was perfect,” Ms. Munafo said of the turnout, which filled roughly half the seats both nights.

Proof of vaccination was needed for admission to the playhouse, and audience members were required to keep their masks on throughout Mr. Flynn’s show, a funny, sometimes suspenseful and often deeply touching memoir of his Irish-American upbringing, his show-business career and the choices he made along the way.

The show’s title, combined with its signature image — the famous 1932 photograph by Charles C. Ebbets of 11 ironworkers eating lunch on a girder high above Manhattan — provide the springboard for Mr. Flynn’s tales.

Identifying one of the men on the girder as his own paternal grandfather, Paddy Flynn, Mr. Flynn regaled the audience with recollections of his boyhood as the third generation of a Brooklyn ironworking family — and the secret phobia that made it clear to young Kevin, early on, that he’d never follow his father and grandfather up to the skyscrapers. 

Mr. Flynn began his stand-up comedy career in the 1980s.

Instead, he told the audience, he was determined to be “rich and famous.” When playing professional soccer didn’t do the trick, he switched to his back-up plan: making people laugh, the way he used to do around the kitchen table at home.

“Stand-up comedy was my plan B,” Mr. Flynn said.

And it worked. After moving to comic-rich Boston Mr. Flynn’s career took off. He even beat out rising stars Louis CK, Marc Maron and other contenders in the 1988 Boston Comedy Riot.

Next, Mr. Flynn was off to Hollywood, for television, movies and a life free of such encumbrances as marriage and fatherhood — until a close call with death dramatically refocused his priorities.

While Mr. Flynn’s show begins with his grandfather, it’s his father, Big Bill Flynn, who looms largest in his memories and whose example he tried to follow by starting a family of his own.

“He was my hero,” Mr. Flynn told the Island audience.

But marriage didn’t work out for Mr. Flynn the way it did for his parents, high school sweethearts who had four children and stayed together for life. Instead, he found himself a divorced dad with a daughter on one coast, a career on the other and some very hard choices to make.

Weaving his own story with family history, Mr. Flynn’s stand-up memoir was full of heart as well as humor, delivered from start to finish with the perfect pacing he developed in his comedy career.

The playhouse off-season continues in November with the return of two popular pre-pandemic series: Ms. Bruder Munafo’s Monday Night Movies series, beginning Nov. 1, and the Wicked Good Musical Revue, Nov. 12 through Nov. 14.

This month, the playhouse lobby is showing a collection of new paintings, drawings and pastels by Vineyard Haven artist Nancy Jephcote.

Chiefly known as one of the Island’s most prolific fiddlers and as a songwriter — she plays with several groups and was a longtime music instructor in the school system — Ms. Jephcote is also a talented artist with an eye for landscapes and people, both on and off the Vineyard.

The current show, Sketching Life, derives from her daily drawing practice over the past winter and spring.

“This body of work was born in response to lock down and separation,” Ms. Jephcote writes in the artist’s statement accompanying her wide-ranging exhibition.

From the porch of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum to the moon rising over Iowa countryside, her scenes lead the viewer deep into each picture through wooded paths, unpaved roads, rolling stone walls and trails of natural light.

Ms. Jephcote’s human subjects capture one’s attention with their eyes, though their backgrounds are also intriguing. In Ponte Vecchio, a woman gazes from a backdrop of the ancient Florentine bridge, while Accordionist sets its musician amid dynamic, abstract lines.