Review: Brooklyn Boy at the Plaza Playhouse Theater

Successful Writer Reflects on Hometown on Friday, January 16

THE WRITE STUFF: Zimmer (Richard Lonsbury) argues with author and old friend Eric Weiss (Ed Giron) in DIJO's production of Brooklyn Boy.
David Bazemore

He’s been interviewed on the Today show about a serious novel that has cracked the best-seller list — what more could a writer ask for? Nothing and everything, as it turns out for Eric Weiss, the character played by Ed Giron, in this charming, idiosyncratic, and tumultuous play about yearning and regret, Brooklyn-style. This sharply written comic drama by Donald Margulies was a well-chosen delight as directed by William Waxman and performed by the seven-person cast on the intimate stage of Carpinteria’s Plaza Playhouse Theater.

The story is told in a series of six scenes, four of which are dialogues, with two three-person segments in the second half of the show. Each of these encounters is designed to display another side of what makes Eric “Ricky” Weiss run. In the first, he’s head-to-head with his father, Manny, played very effectively by Jerry Oshinsky. Manny’s in Maimonides Hospital dying of cancer, and Eric brings him his new book, also called Brooklyn Boy, but dad is having none of it. In a wild scene that reads like any writer’s worst nightmare of parental incomprehension, Manny gets on Eric’s last nerve with a seemingly relentless stream of put-downs. To let just one ripe example stand for them all, when Manny sees that the book is dedicated to “My mother and father,” he doesn’t miss a beat before complaining, “Why didn’t you include our names? We could use the plug!” The line gets a laugh, but at the same time the audience knows that, in the story, Manny’s not joking.

From there Eric takes refuge in the hospital cafeteria, only to run into his childhood friend Ira Zimmer (Richard Lonsbury). Anyone hoping for a break from the conflict will have to wait. Lonsbury was great as Ira, the best friend who can’t quite contain his excitement at being reunited with his now-famous pal or his resentment at having ended up running his father’s delicatessen. The waves of vulnerability and anger that rock back and forth across this scene leave both characters distraught and unable, in a bit of foreshadowing, to find a graceful exit.

The somewhat bizarre and none-too-reassuring encounter with Ira does little to prepare Eric for what comes next. In a touching scene in his former apartment on St. Mark’s Place, Eric surrenders his keys to Nina (Shannon Saleh), his soon-to-be ex-wife. This excellent scene examined the kinds of irreconcilable differences that sometimes pile up when a couple has too much in common. Nina is also a writer, but she hasn’t had a story published in six years. Eric desperately needs to connect with her again in order to savor his success, but it’s his success that now stands between them.

After the intermission, we get two scenes in Los Angeles, both of which take a different approach to the material and at times strain the limits of the tone that has given the piece its integrity up to this point. The first takes place in a room at the Mondrian Hotel on Sunset right after Eric’s reading at Book Soup. He’s got a UCLA student, Alison (Alison Waxman), with him, and things don’t go particularly well for reasons that only become apparent in retrospect. Waxman brought an interesting stage presence to the scene, with flashes of wit and self-awareness that transcended the dialogue. The next scene at Paramount Studios with Melanie Fine (Aden Hailu) and Tyler Shaw (Sean Jackson) began by seeming out of place, almost cartoonish, but ended with a punch to the heart as Eric breaks down in the process of reading lines he has written for his father in the screenplay version of Brooklyn Boy.

The final scene takes place back on Ocean Avenue, and without giving away too much, it involves kaddish, the traditional Jewish prayer for the dead. DIJO is to be commended for this entertaining and thought-provoking production of an excellent recent play. Mazel tov!


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