By Donald Margulies
Directed by Daniel Sullivan
Starring Adam Arkin with Polly Draper
A Production of the Manhattan Theatre Club
Biltmore Theatre / 261 West 47th Street / (212) 239-6200

Reviewed by David Spencer

There’s no understating the rich humanity of Donald Magulies new play, "Brooklyn Boy"–which must be emphasized because the architecture in which that humanity exists is so evidently structured.

The play’s hero is Eric Weiss (Adam Arkin), a Jewish, middle-aged novelist who finally becomes a national bestselling author with his third novel. The third time may be the charm, because while the first two were literary and dense, this one is from a less heady place: a semi-autobiographical tale about growing up in Brooklyn. (The title of the novel within the play is likewise "Brooklyn Boy".) And the play is about the consequences to his relationships…not so much of success…but of having reached the place where he has achieved the artistic perspective about his roots and his life to write "Brooklyn Boy"…a perspective that has carried him away from the visceral connections that tied him there; that has him in this odd netherworld between being the artist with access, and the man who detaches. This is not to say he’s become cold…but he’s moved on, mentally, in sophistication, even a bit of unintentional (but entirely natural) effeteness. Such that he can no longer connect to his past in life the way he has on the page.

Thus he must cope with his dying father’s (Allan Miller) exasperating inability to quite understand his accomplishment; with the threat hovering over a reconciliation with his estranged wife, also a writer (Polly Draper), that if they become a couple again, he will always be the successful one trying to push her gasping non-career, and she the struggling one trying not to live in her husband’s shadow; with those who remember him when and see themselves in the book, or imagine they do (Arye Gross); with the power that comes from celebrity-as-aphrodisiac to young women (Ari Graynor);–and last but not least, with the ravages of Hollywood (Mimi Lieber, Kevin Isola) after the inevitable movie deal.

The play sets up a series of one-on-one encounters (varying the formula in the Hollywood segment, where Eric confronts a Jewish producer afraid of the book’s ethnicity and a gentile heartthrob star who mispronounces his character’s name). The expectation of a new encounter with a new challenge in each scene has the potential to seem schematic–yet because the writing is so subtle, funny and sad, the revelations so layered and unformulaic, that we begin to look forward to each new dimension that will be revealed, because each successive character is so freshly imagined, and each new encounter adds richer facets to Eric.

Add to this that the cast, under the unobtrusively dead on direction of Daniel Sullivan, simply couldn’t be bettered. In a role that could easily become passive–Eric is often a foil for the others–Adam Arkin makes observation and introspection thoroughly active processes. His onstage colleagues are equally vulnerable and compelling, as they variously come at him for what he cannot grant and refuse to give him what he seeks.

"Brooklyn Boy" is a rich, gently seductive gem of a play, the kind of thing that would be the season crown jewel for any institutional theatre…the fact, though, that its softly etched intimacy has the power to fill a Broadway house marks it as something even more special.

It may even be the newest great American play…

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