Reviewed by Will Stackman
There's a strong feeling of deja vu about Donald Margulies' quasi-autobiographical play, "Brooklyn Boy," intentionally as it turns out. A Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, Margulies' facility with structure and sure ear for dialogue sequence has not always worked in favor of his writing. Here however subject and method come together. True, this piece more closely resembles sequential series of one-acts--or a successive chapters in a novel--than a traditional drama, but even so the method gets the job done. As usual, the fate of his central character is as uncertain in the final scene as in the first, but perhaps he--and we--understand why.
The Brooklyn boy, one Eric Weiss--bearing the same name as the legendary Houdini--is played by award-winning actor, director, screenwriter, and filmmaker, Victor Warren, whose background on both coasts brings him quite close to the part. Eric has in fact "escaped" from his Jewish boyhood in Sheepshead Bay and has just made the best seller list with his third novel, entitled "Brooklyn Boy" based on growing up there. The first scene finds him in a cancer ward visiting his ailing father, Manny, played sharply by David Kristin, where Eric gives him a copy of his new book, while Manny rehashes their old disagreements. Stopping for coffee on the way out, the author meets a childhood friend, Ira, played with his usual comic flair by IRNE winner Ken Baltin. The two had their Bar Miztvah's together; Ira has reluctantly taken over his family's deli and become more observant. Eric escapes Ira's attentions to pay a brief visit to his soon-to-be former wife, Nina, another writer, played by the Artistic Director of the Underground Railway Theater, Debra Wise. They're breaking up for believably complex reasons, not the least of which is her lack of success. He's just made the best seller list--at No. 11.
The second act finds Eric in Hollywood, having sold his book as a movie and written the screenplay. It's the night after a big booksigning and he's brought a young film school grad back to his room, where Alison--one "l"--raids the mini-bar for candy and chips. Joy Lamberton makes this uninhibited Valley girl into a complex person, one who actually read his second novel, leaving our hero frustrated at his own lack of awareness. The next day he's in his producer, one Melanie Fine's office. IRNE winner Ellen Colton plays this feisty character with her usual assuredness, reluctantly telling Eric that his screenplay is too ethnic, all the while displaying her own "Long Ghisland" girl credentials. Then in comes the beach blond T.V. actor Tyler Shaw who's in line to play the lead. Despite his apparently superficial ways, during an impromptu reading, Brad Smith--a playwright himself--shows that this hunk is actually a skillful actor. At which point Eric breaks down. The final scene reveals that he'd heard about his father's passing before the reading the night before. He's in the old family home packing when Ira reappears and the two are somewhat reconciled. After Ira goes, carrying off some dusty packages of holiday booze, Many reappears, without any special effects and Eric, in his mind's eye at least, is able to reconcile with his father. In each scene, Margulies deviates just enough from the predictable to make this work equal to or better than his overly-precious "Diner with Friends." Whether either will have legs remains to be seen, but "Brooklyn Boy" might be a safer bet.
Multiple award-winning director Adam Zahler has directed this show with his usual economy, letting a skillful cast create believable characters without trickery. Warren is particularly good as a man used to letting his writing express his emotions, while laying back from committment. Audra Avery has provided an interesting set with a photo realistic backdrop to one side balanced by bits of brick rowhouse, while the acting area is defined by abstract modernistic scrim walls. Since furniture must be changed a vista, it might have been better to costume the crew. Chelsea White's costumes help define the East Coast/West Coast dichotomy. As usual, Karen Perlow's lighting only enhances the show, as do Jeffrey Alan Jones several soundscapes. While the show's title implies a very New York show, Zahler has followed the author's lead and created a production which emphasizes the alienation of the writer an everyman trying to understand his past by creating from it. Margulies is not an especially subtle playwright and this script could easily become a series of comic interludes. Here it doesn't. One can only hope that the author isn't really as miserable as his fictional self in this play and in previous efforts.