Opening Nights: Brooklyn Boy. Lazy and Airless, Though a Groupie Brings Some Sparkle

I was hoping that there might be a little irony in the title of Donald Margulies' 2004 play, and that somehow it might not really be about an urbane Jewish novelist from Brooklyn going home to visit his ailing father in the provincial ethnic neighborhood he fled right after high school. The story sounded too sentimental and unoriginal to have come from the author of the sparkling Dinner With Friends (which won a Pulitzer in 2000) and mordant two-hander Collected Stories, both of which ran at ACT. But Brooklyn Boy is as earnestly on-the-nose as its title. Worse still, it's lazy playmaking that takes a list of ideas (many of them quite interesting, like the two-sided coin of basking in reflected glory and living in someone else's shadow) and injects them into a mostly single-file parade of characters who trundle out for their pleasantries and perfunctory sparring matches, then disappear.Eric Weiss (workmanlike, sunken-eyed Jeff Berryman) has finally broken through as a commercially viable novelist with a largely autobiographical book called, yes, Brooklyn Boy. Back in the 'hood to visit his father Manny (Bob Gallaher) in the hospital, he runs into childhood friend Ira (Alex Robertson), who has become an orthodox Jew through marriage. Ira is the best-handled character, both by Margulies and Robertson. His emotions toward Eric (jealousy, admiration, resentment, and love) seem the most authentic and sympathetic, perhaps in part because he appears in two scenes and is thus more dimensional. Other characters, including Eric's wife (Lisa Peretti), Hollywood producer (Nikki Visel), and groupie (Jesse Notehelfer), only get one scene, which reduces them to undeveloped caricatures.Five of the six scenes feel airless, partly due to Karen Lund's ploddingly literal and depressing directorial choices, partly due to the script's exposition-heavy catch-up and meet-and-greet scenes. The one scene that breathes puts chronically morose Eric in a luxury hotel room with the groupie—the irrepressibly energetic Notehelfer, who blazes like a sparkler. But predictably, Eric can't take the heat or the light. Rather, he yearns for reconciliation with his father (and with his culture of origin), which he ultimately attains too easily via a deus-ex-machina handout.

 
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