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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Brooklyn Boy

Also see Susan's review of Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins

Oklahoma!
Howard Elfman and Paul Morella
Brooklyn Boy, playwright Donald Margulies' rumination on fathers and sons, Jewish identity, and Brooklyn as an idealized "place to be from," is receiving a pleasant if not especially moving production at Olney Theatre Center's Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab. Director Jim Petosa does a fine job steering this vehicle with an accomplished cast, but the drama remains low-key rather than breaking out.

Margulies' 2004 play, receiving its Washington area premiere with this production, is gentle and warm hearted. It follows Eric Weiss (Paul Morella), a literary novelist, as he finally breaks into the bestseller list with his third book, a semi-autobiographical work of fiction titled (of course) "Brooklyn Boy." Eric has long since left the Brooklyn of his youth to live in Manhattan, but he returns to the old neighborhood to visit his dying father (Howard Elfman).

In a sequence of scenes, Eric hashes out old grievances with his father, bedridden and preparing for death; encounters a boyhood friend (Ethan T. Bowen) who, unlike Eric, never had an opportunity to move beyond his origins; attempts to settle matters with the wife who is divorcing him (Lee Mikeska Gardner); has an interlude, out of character for him, with a college student (Emerie Snyder) after a book signing in Los Angeles; tries to navigate Hollywood accompanied by a hard-headed movie producer (Halo Wines) and a hot young actor looking for credibility (Paul Cereghino); and ultimately returns to Brooklyn.

The playwright has a way with the small moment and the telling line, although his Hollywood targets are a little easy. (The actor gives his hairdresser credit for helping him develop his characterizations; the producer has an assistant who offers script-doctoring advice when she isn't delivering lunch.) On the other hand, the student is heartbreaking as she equates serious writers with "watchmakers or violin makers ... a dying craft."

Margulies touches lightly on several things: growing up as a form of escape (Eric shares a name with Harry Houdini, whose birth name was Erich Weiss); the pull of the past (Bowen's character has found fulfillment in Orthodox Judaism, while Eric is determinedly non-observant); and the need of an author's friends and family to believe that they are the inspiration for specific fictional characters. Interestingly, the playwright examined similar themes with more fireworks in his earlier play Collected Stories, which concerns the appropriation of a mentor's memories by an ambitious student.

Scenic designer James Kronzer has once again done wonders in a small space, using slanted walls to exaggerate the depth of the settings.

Olney Theatre Center
Brooklyn Boy June 20th August 5th
By Donald Margulies
Eric Weiss: Paul Morella
Manny Weiss: Howard Elfman
Ira Zimmer: Ethan T. Bowen
Nina: Lee Mikeska Gardner
Alison: Emerie Snyder
Melanie Fine: Halo Wines
Tyler Shaw: Paul Cereghino
Directed by Jim Petosa
Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road
Olney, MD
Ticket Information: 301-924-3400 or www.olneytheatre.org


Photo: Stan Barouh


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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