Dick Flavin first met Tip O’Neill in the 1960s.
O’Neill was in Congress and Flavin was just entering the political circle. O’Neill stood out above the crowd, and impressed with him “wonderful people skills,” Flavin said.
Over the next several decades, the relationship between the two men grew. During the 1970s, as a member of the media, Flavin would report on the politician as he covered the political beat. By the 1990s, O’Neill had retired and Flavin had moved on from journalism to other interests, and the two became good friends.
Thomas P. O’Neill Jr., or “Tip” as he was always called, served in the House of Representatives for 34 years and represented two congressional districts in Massachusetts. He was the Speaker of the House from 1977 until his retirement in 1987.
“He was about the most colorful character I had ever come across in covering politicians,” Flavin said yesterday.
After O’Neill’s death in 1994, Flavin mulled ways to honor his friend. While there are several good biographies on the late Speaker of the House, Flavin wanted to create a project that would show the public a side to O’Neill that they wouldn’t find by reading a book about him — he wanted to recreate his personal side and to show the way he was, and the way O’Neill interacted with others.
The only way he could think to do so was in a theatrical setting.
So, Flavin got to work, and 10 years ago, he had a result: his one-man play that honors the life and career of his late friend and keeps his memory alive. The Quincy resident recently decided to take his production on tour, and “According to Tip” will make a brief stop at the Firehouse in Newburyport this weekend. In doing so, Flavin has taken over the role of O’Neill — something he never imagined doing so when he first wrote the play. It is directed by Richard McElvain.
He sees his play as a shine a spotlight on an underlying theme — a call to bring civility back to the political discussion.
O’Neill abided by the “six o’clock rule,” Flavin said, which meant that at the end of the workday, after debate and disagreement stopped, politicians would return to friends. They respected each other’s opinions, “even if the other guy was dead wrong,” Flavin said.
O’Neill saw politicians as “adversaries during the day and not as enemies like politicians now,” Flavin said. By following that path, politicians were able to come to a consensus on issues more and there was less of the deadlock that occurs today, he added.
“He would be dismayed at the amount of animosity that exists between politicians now,” he said.
The intimate setting of the Firehouse is perfect for “According to Tip,” Flavin said, as it caters to the conversational tone of the one-man show. The play is designed to feel like a conversation between O’Neill and the audience, he added.
“It was just perfect for us,” he said.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “According to Tip” by Dick Flavin
WHEN: Tomorrow and Saturday, 8 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 3 p.m.
WHERE: Firehouse Center for the Arts, Market Square, Newburyport
HOW: $35 general admission, $20 students, $30 for seniors. Call the box office at 978-462-7336 or visit online at www.firehouse.org.