AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Donald Margulies
Directed by Joy Carlin
Presented by TheatreWorks
Lucie Stern Theatre
1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, CA / (650) 903-6000

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Sometimes success isn't all it's cracked up to be. That's one of the lessons that novelist Eric Weiss (Victor Talmadge) learns in Donald Margulies' "Brooklyn Boy." TheatreWorks is presenting the 2004 drama under the direction of Joy Carlin.

Eric has just seen his third novel, "Brooklyn Boy," rise to No. 11 on the New York Times best-seller list after his first two published novels fared poorly. Visiting his seriously ill father, Manny (Ray Reinhardt), in a Brooklyn hospital, he's eager to tell him about this accomplishment. The cantankerous Manny seems unimpressed. He has to be coaxed into taking a copy to read. He also wants to know how close this work of fiction is to Eric's real life growing up Jewish in Brooklyn.

Eric then runs into a close boyhood friend, Ira Zimmer (David Kudler), whom he hasn't seen or heard from in years. While Eric has been distancing himself from his Brooklyn and Jewish roots, Ira and his family live in the house where he grew up, and he runs his family's delicatessen and practices his faith. Eric is polite but uncomfortable.

He become even more uncomfortable when he goes to the East Village apartment he shared with his wife, Nina (Pamela Gaye Walker), whom he still loves but who has filed for divorce. She's a writer, too, but has seen only rejection slips. Apparently his success has come between them.

In subsequent scenes, Eric goes to Hollywood for a book signing and a meeting with the producer who will shepherd his "Brooklyn Boy" screenplay into film. After the signing, he invites Alison (Kristin Stokes), a college senior, to his hotel room -- another uncomfortable experience. More pain comes when producer Melanie Fine (Amy Resnick) heaps praise on his script, then asks him to cut it and to "lower the Jewish quotient." A short reading with Tyler Shaw (Craig W. Marker), the brash young actor who's to play Eric's character in the film, hits closer to home than Eric had imagined. Ultimately, after another encounter with Ira and his now-deceased father, Eric begins to come to terms with his roots and to find some solace.

Talmadge, who is on stage throughout the two-act play, ably captures Eric's conflicting emotions. Reinhardt is marvelous as the crusty old Manny, while Stokes gives unexpected depth to young Alison. Although high-powered, smarmy movie producers have become something of a stereotype, Resnick skillfully navigates the changes in tone as she flatters Eric, barks out profanity-laced orders to her attorney on the phone, then tries to convince Eric that making the script less Jewish will result in a bigger box office. Walker, Kudler and Marker also handle their roles convincingly.

The play tends to be talky with little action, especially since all but one scene involves Eric and only one other character, but Carlin and her skillful cast pace it well. They also mine its humor, often evoking knowing laughter from the opening night audience. The design team also helps with a revolving set by Annie Smart, costumes by Taisia Nikonishchenko, lighting by Michael Palumbo and sound by Cliff Caruthers.

The idea that you can't go home again occurs frequently in drama and literature, but in Eric's case, going home restores some equilibrium to his changing life.

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