TELEVISION

Vin Fraioli

One Man’s Treasah

OR HOW ‘BROTHAHOOD’ CAME TO PROVIDENCE, RHODE, ISLAND


I pull to the side of the road of a cul de sac right into a patch of shade. It’s almost one thirty and I have a phone interview with Elizabeth Stephen, the President of Mandalay Entertainment Television and the prime mover behind the series “Brotherhood,” which is being filmed in Rhode Island for the Showtime Network at this very moment. Its impact to the economy, to local industries and to the self-esteem of Liddle Rhody is said to be enormous, the effects of which we won’t know for years to come.

Elizabeth Stephen, President of Mandalay Entertainment Television, on the PhotoShop film strips in front of the State Capitol in Providence, RI, where many a night of midnight oil burned to clear the way for “Brotherhood,” the television series for Showtime Network that she produces. Photo and design by Lew Place.
Elizabeth Stephen and her friend Steven Feinberg, Rhode Island Film and Television Office Director. Along with elected officials and industry leaders they made “Brotherhood” happen for the state.The series has been in production since July 5th and will continue through November. Photo by Lew Place.

But why Liddle Rhody as the choice of location?

Liddle? Did I say that instead of “little”? Yes, I did. Habit. A trace of my accent local to these shores, with its fleshy consonants and r’s as elusive as trace elements. Yet, as I will soon find out, we Rhode Islanders with our peculiar accent figuratively talked our way into becoming the host state for this major TV series.

I’m three minutes late. I press dial.

“Elizabeth, please.”

Robyn, the administrator puts Elizabeth on the phone.

“Hello, Vin…”

My ear takes over my mind’s eye as she speaks. Her voice is clear and friendly, with a ceiling of reserve. In her accent are tapered curves and a raised lilt. New York and Connecticut, I guess.

“Vinny,” I say. “It’s easier to remember.”

“Brotherhood,” or as it has been called, “The Hill,” was created by Blake Masters and centers around two brothers, one a politician (actor, Jason Clark), the other a gangster (actor, Jason Isaacs) and the dynamic cauldron they boil on opposite sides of the law. Set in an Irish neighborhood in Providence, it could be the next McSopranos.

“I heard that you have roots in Rhode Island,” I ask. “Were you born here?”

“No. I was born in Manhattan,” she says, “and I went to Brown Unioversity as an undergraduate. But my great-grandparents were from Rhode Island. So, I guess you can say I have roots there. They owned a factory there until the 1950’s. In fact, I just visited the house they lived in on the East Side. It’s funny, for the four years I went to Brown, I never visited where they lived. I didn’t know where their houses were. It wasn’t until recently that my father found a letter with their address on it and when I came back here for ‘Brotherhood,’ I drove by the houses where they lived. I have so many memories of my college days in Providence. The Haven Brother’s diner downtown...”

“So, how did you end up coming here?”

“It was an idea that Blake had. I love his writing. He originally wrote the script for film, but I begged him to rewrite it for television. Even though I’ve done feature films. We began talking about where we could do it whether we should do it in New York, but we went out to Rhode Island to check the location. We loved it so much, we left Blake there. And he’s still there!” she laughs.

“It’s exciting to shoot the show in RI.,” she says. “It’s so rich. That history alone is beautiful, so much history. I know accent and flavor is important. And the different ethnicities, Irish, Italian, Jews. There is texture to the world there.”

“So, this could have gone elsewhere if you hadn’t had Rhode Island in your mind’s eye? Your mind’s ear, to be more appropriate.”

Some Rhode Islanders are ashamed of their accents...” But that accent won the day for the “liddle” Rhody when it became the location for “Brotherhood,” Showtime Network’s new prime time series. Photo by Vin Fraioli.
One Rhode Islander caught saying “Cahr.” Photo by Vin Fraioli.

“Yes. It probably would have gone to Philadelphia. They were thinking about it, but I pushed for RI. I love the accent!”

At this point, I pride myself at having lost my accent. Ah, such speech, such breath chiseled by conscious consonants, the dull softness and open vowels snapped shipshape by my speaking other languages for so many years…

“Well, I lost my accent a long time ago,” I say proudly. “I’m so used to speaking other languages that I…”

“No. You still have an accent,” she says. “I can hear it.”

“Really?”

“Oh, yes.

“Hmm.”

“Another thing,” she says, “some of the producers thought that the Rhode Island accent was much too heavy and difficult to understand. But to Philip Noyce’s and Blake Master’s credit, they insisted that it would bring so much authenticity to the show. When Showtime Network saw the pilot they were thrilled. I have to give Showtime lots of credit. It would have been much easier for them to say, ‘let’s do it in Toronto.’ And, of course, there was my friend, Steve Feinberg, the Director of the Rhode Island Film Commission. He’s a Rhode Island native. He spent twenty years in LA and knows the business.”

Yes, I know Steve, I say. I watched him bring his experience from Hollywood back to Little Rhody, his native state. I watched him work hard at convincing the Powers that Be to pass legislation which makes the state film friendly.

But, the accent!

I thank Elizabeth for her time and openness. I hang up the phone. I pull the car mirror towards my face and speak into it.

“Park the car and wash the clothes,” I say.

No, I do not hear, “Pahk the Cah and Warsh the Clothes.” I don’t have an accent.

Yet, so, as far as I’m concerned, this accent, this so-called affliction, this audible vulnerability to burlesque, countless cartoons, ribbings, and demonstrations has finally paid off.

That’s how “Brothahood” came to town!


Vin Fraioli is a writer, sometime actor, classical guitarist, husband, father living in Rhode Island. He is a world traveler giving concerts and lectures, and a frequent contributor to IMAGINE. He was born in Providence, RI.