At some point in middle-age, most of us pause for a long look back at where we came from: the family, friends, places and events that set the course for where we've ended up. Revisiting those places and times is not exactly nostalgia, especially if it's done honestly enough, but more a matter of seeing our personal choices from the vantage point of maturity and with the added perspective of the ambitions, achievements and failures that result in the consequence of who we are.
Donald Margulies makes that journey in “Brooklyn Boy” into a warm, often very funny, excellently crafted and unabashedly conventional drama. There are a lot of laughs in this story of a Brooklyn Jew who becomes a successful writer and returns to make peace with his father, before and after his father's death, but it also feels very honest, very authentic. Even the cautious, familiar technique of his storytelling says that the playwright is not trying to light up the stage, but simply to shine light into his particular corner of experience. The characters feel less dramatized, less theatricalized than simply enlisted into showing us his story, and all of the dramatic action is decidedly human-scaled.
Director Karen Lund may be the best director in Seattle for handling this sort of intimate, realistic and humane drama. She's assembled a solid cast, led by the perfectly cast Jeff Berryman, a successful writer himself and a thoroughly professional, thoroughly modest, convincing actor. The action of the play, mostly in two-character scenes, is meticulously staged to deepen our understanding of Eric Weiss, the newly crowned “number 11 best-selling author,” and those people in his life most responsible for who and what he has become. Bob Gallaher makes Eric's father, Manny, a distinctively ethnic Brooklyn Jew who is less than generous with his approval and never quite able to take satisfaction in his son's achievement.
The first act ends with Eric and his ex-wife, Nina, who is living surrounded by packing boxes filled with the life they will no longer share. Lisa Peretti brings dignity and confidence to this most adult of Eric's relationships and also establishes that this is a story about grown-ups. That's not really the role played by Alison, a woman half Eric's age who accompanies him back to his hotel room after a Los Angeles booksigning event. Yet, even there Margulies is too good a writer to bring in a cheap, easy-comedy groupie. Instead, he lets Jesse Notehelfer play the lovely young Alison as a real person, a woman of not inconsiderable substance if rather less experience. That same respect for believability comes through in Eric's childhood friend, Ira, a more orthodox Jew who can't quite understand why Eric had to go so far from the old neighborhood. Alex Robertson makes Ira a pretty regular guy who provides a personal measure for Eric that has nothing to do with social or media acclaim.
For me, the only false notes were in the stereotypical Hollywood agent played by Nikki Visel and the vain, self-aggrandizing glamour-boy actor played by Nicholas Beach. Of course, I think Margulies was using both of these characters to exemplify the superficiality of the Hollywood lifestyle, and to put it in contrast to the matzo reality of his old neighborhood, but they both still felt contrived in a way that showed the playwright's hand. The performances were fine, but I didn't buy either character in the way that I accepted everything else in the play.
“Brooklyn Boy” is a very engaging, amusing and touching play by one of our finest contemporary playwrights. It doesn't try to push the theater anywhere into the future or dazzle us with theatrical technique. What it does do is provide us an opportunity to spend a couple of hours with a man willing to tell his story, his own, singular, personal story of what it meant to his life to make the journey back down these streets, to sit with these people, to live this life.
PICTURED ABOVE: Jesse Notehelfer and Jeff Berryman
PHOTO BY: Erik Stuhaug