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Tom Fontana Reunites "Oz" Cast, Raises Money for WGAE
May 3, 2010  | By David Bianculli

Tom Fontana Reunites "Oz" Cast, Raises Money for WGAE Foundation and Puts a Stuffed Moose's Head in Play, In a One-Day NY Stage Play Called "The Godfather Part IV"

oz-.tergesen.meloni.oz.lc.jpgIn a one-day-only, two-performances benefit staging for Writers Foundation East, a giggling gaggle of cast members from Tom Fontana's groundbreaking HBO drama series Oz reunited in New York yesterday, for a comedic, playfully homoerotic, revenge-fantasy comedy of Fontana's unproduced The Godfather Part IV. What a riot -- and what a shame it wasn't filmed for HBO, or as the funniest DVD Extra of all time...

The Godfather Part IV, it turns out, was an existing script by Fontana, tweaked for the occasion. Why he wrote it, and for whom, I don't yet know. Nor do I know if one of the scheduled cast members playing exaggerated versions of themselves, Julianna Margulies, actually was supposed to appear. She didn't, and Fontana explained at both performances Sunday her absence was unavoidable, because she was at the previous night's White House Correspondents Dinner. Which she was -- so who knows?

In any event, her part was played by Fontana himself -- which made it even funnier, especially when "Julianna" was being fondled and snuggled by Chris Meloni, one of many Oz graduates playing themselves in this very odd, very playful play about love, revenge and the movie version of The Godfather.


Fontana, who felt close enough to Oz when it began in 1997 that he had its title emblem tattooed on his own arm, for real, as part of the opening credits sequence, clearly has stayed close enough to his cast members to draft their willing participation for an informal script reading on a Sunday in May. Staged at New York's 59E59 Theater, Sunday's two performances raised money for Writers Foundation East, one of the many philanthropic foundations of the Writers Guild of America, East.

Some audience members who attended had little or no knowledge of Oz, but enjoyed the comedy thoroughly anyway. I attended with Mike Donovan, one of my co-teachers of TV History and Appreciation at Rowan University, and the Oz references were like catnip to us. But, Fontana being Fontana, the play also was peppered with in-jokes that, most probably, only the cast members could get -- and maybe not even all of them.

But the play's basic premise built on one central theme of Fontana's cable prison drama: the masochistic romance between Lee Tergesen's innocent Beecher and Chris Meloni's Machiavellian Keller.

As Godfather Part IV opens, Tergesen and Meloni, playing themselves, are arguing about the relative merits of Marlon Brando and The Godfather.


Also participating in the debate are other Oz veterans, also playing themselves: Terry Kinney, who played prison idealist McManus, and Dean Winters, who played the slick, shady Ryan O'Reilly.

The conversation hinges, in part, on Meloni's rejection of the infamous "horses' head" scene as preposterous -- but when Tergesen learns that Meloni is sleeping with Tergesen's recent ex, Julianna Margulies, Tergesen, Kinney and Winters conspire to teach Meloni two lessons in one, by putting a severed horse's head in HIS bed. For Tergesen, Meloni betrayed him twice -- as friend and as lover. He DESERVES a horse's head in his bed.


Except that it turns out to be a stuffed moose's head, borrowed from another Oz veteran, Zeljko Ivanek, who played Governor Devlin. And other Oz players, including Eamonn Walker (Kareem Said on Oz, providing narration here), Kristin Rohde and Catherine Wolf -- appear as well, moving to and from the downstage stools as their time came to read their lines.


The whole thing was loose, funny and totally enjoyable. Walker, as narrator, alluded to one night, during the Oz days, involving "twins and that jar of Fluffernutter" (at which point Winters smiled widely and told the audience conspiratorially, "That happened, by the way"). Kinney kept wryly distancing himself from the insults he was tossing out in all directions, blaming them on Fontana the writer. And when Meloni was described, in essence, as a pagan god of unmatched sex appeal, his pleased, cocky smile and strutting head bobs drew laughs and applause from the audience, without him having to say a word.


Only Fontana, perhaps, could conflate The Godfather and Lord of the Rings and make it work, leading Tergesen to utter the immortal line, "I'm Frodo, not Fredo!" Tergesen and Meloni had the best lines and drew the biggest laughs, but everyone had his or her moments -- and the pop references throughout were fast, furious and hilarious. Dick Wolf and his Law & Order franchise, now home to Meloni, drew plenty of good-hearted barbs -- as did Damages (for which Ivanek recently won an Emmy), and even Avatar.

Oh, and I checked. I was at the matinee, but Margulies didn't show up for the evening performance, either. But who cares? When Fontana stepped in for her and shared the scenes (and the bed) with Meloni, it was just as entertaining. Maybe more so...




Der Rock said:

When did this happen and how the hell do i find video of this?

[It happened in May 2010 -- and so far asI know, it wasn't even filmed for video. So, unless Fontana restages it, it's the proverbial "You had to be there." - DB

Comment posted on October 3, 2011 10:20 PM
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