Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Biloxi Blues"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"


entire contents copyright 2010 by Tony Annicone

"Biloxi Blues"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The current show at MMAS is The New England Repertory Company's "Biloxi Blues" by Neil Simon. The show is the second play in the three play cycle of Eugene Morris Jerome plays. The Broadway show opened on March 28, 1985, closed on June 28, 1986, ran for 524 performances and won the Tony Award for Best Play. Here, Eugene is a young Army recruit during the Second World War going through basic training. The story takes place during Army boot camp in Biloxi, Mississippi in 1943. Eugene and his fellow enlisted recruits suffer under the hard-nosed Sergeant Toomey, partake the daily "mess'' served up for meals, and join together for a visit to the local whorehouse and officially become ''adults''. Eugene also confronts the ugly specter of anti-Semitism and for the first time, falls in love. The community values and prejudices that the recruits idiosyncratic home lives they bring with them to the barracks is authentic in the show. The play is about how our vulnerable twenty-year olds contend with those different values and how they survive and achieve their personal rites of passage. Director Mike Kiernan casts these nine roles very well, gives each of his performers their moment to shine in this thought provoking and funny show.

Mike's insightful direction brings out the comic and poignant moments splendidly, giving each performer their time to shine. He also makes each character unique so you can tell them apart. The unit set design by Michael Duarte with artistic detailing by Glenn Fournier. The set is a storybook set with the railway car entering for the first and last scenes of the show as well as the bed set for the whorehouse segment. In the first railway scene the men are nervous at their arrival at the base and in the last they are nervous as they head off to war. His stage manager Alan Conaway keeps things running smoothly all night long. The authentic looking Army costumes are by Mary Jane McCool. She also supplies all the props for the show. Leading this cast is Petr Favazza as Eugene. I saw him do this role in Brighton Beach Memoirs back in 2007 when he was only 13 years old. He not only plays Eugene but as in the other two trilogy shows he narrates it, too. Petr gives the role the dimension it needs to carry it off and interacts splendidly with his fellow cast mates. Some of his funniest moments come when he visits a prostitute, fights with the others when they read his memoirs, tries to hide the SOS they are forced to eat. A touching moment comes in the last scene with Daisy. Petr has tears in his eyes at this poignant moment. He also describes what happens to everyone in the final scene. Petr has grown so much as an actor in the three years I have reviewed him.The brow beating drill sergeant is wonderfully played by Joe LaGreca. He runs rough shod over these men perfectly, barking orders, demanding push-ups and forcing them to eat inedible food, forced marches thru the marshland. His show stopping moment occurs in the second act when he delivers a powerful revelation scene with Epstein.

The rest of the cast does a marvelous job with their roles. The pivotal role of the nerd Arnold Epstein is played by Peter Fitzgerald. Arnold claims to have medical problems, brings a note from the doctor that Toomey rips up but in his own way he stands up to the sergeant eventually winning the day. Peter's poignant scene occurs when he describes how two bullies peed all over the latrine after he cleaned it and handcuffed him to a pipe after calling him a Jew boy. He gives an emotional punch at this moment. The gung ho recruit Joseph Wykowski is played with excellent intensity by Curtis Bellafiore. He calls the other recruits derogatory names, claims if he had a week left to live he wanted to make love to the Queen of England because the King only makes love to her once a year to have a prince, reads Eugene's memoirs aloud and makes love to the hooker for 34 minutes. (A week left to live is a game that Eugene initiates with the other recruits.) Roy Selridge is strongly played by Michael Gebrayel. Roy has his foot in Joe's face on the train both times is a laugh out loud moment. He wants to make love to the seven richest women in the world for his last seven days, grapples with Eugene when Joe reads his memoirs and says he is past his peak when he is waiting for the hooker. Mario DaRosa Jr. plays Don Carney. His funniest line is that SOS is the first food he is afraid of. For his last seven days he wants to sing at Radio City Music Hall for 4000 women and a Decca Record Producer. Roy constantly sings but isn't very good at it is a comic bit Simon puts in this show. Mario closes Act 1 singing "It Had to Be You" to Eugene, winning many laughs. Kenard Jackson plays Hennessy, corporal who is on KP when we first meet him and has a secret that is revealed later in the show. Rosemarie Sirois is funny as Rowena, the prostitute. She tells Eugene that she is married only works on weekends, sells perfume and black panties, too. Beautiful brunette, Kate Brush plays Catholic school girl, Daisy Hannigan who becomes the first girl Eugene falls in love with. She reads many books was named for Daisy Buchanan from "The Great Gatsby" and meets Eugene before he leaves on Good Friday. Kate is only in two scenes but has wonderful chemistry with Petr in this part. So for a terrific look at a seldom done fantastic Neil Simon show, be sure to catch "Biloxi Blues" at MMAS. Tell them Tony sent you.

"Biloxi Blues" (10 - 26 September)
NEW ENGLAND REPERTORY COMPANY
@ MMAS Black Box Theater, 277 North Main Street, MANSFIELD MA
1 (508)339-2822

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