Reviewed by Tony Annicone
The current show at Ivoryton Playhouse is “Biloxi Blues” by Neil Simon. This show is the second play in the three play cycle of the 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 at Army boot camp in Biloxi, Mississippi in 1943. Eugene and his fellow recruits suffer under the hard nosed Sergeant Toomey, partake the daily “mess” served up for meals, and join together to visit a 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 from the recruits idiosyncratic home lives that they bring to the barracks, is authentic in this show. The play is about how vulnerable twenty year olds contend with these different values and how they survive and achieve their personal rites of passage. Director Sasha Bratt casts these nine roles very well and gives each of the performers their moment to shine in this funny and thought provoking play.
Sasha’s insightful direction brings out the comic and poignant moments splendidly. He makes each character unique so the audience is able to distinguish one from the other. The unit set design is by Glenn Bassett. 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 for war. The army costumes are by Lisa Bibey. Leading this cast is Zal Owen as Eugene. He not only plays this role but narrates the show as well. Zal gives the role the dimension it needs and interacts marvelously with his fellow cast mates. Some of his funniest moments come when he visits a prostitute, fights with the others when they look at his memoirs and tries to hide the SOS they are forced to eat. A poignant moment occurs with Daisy in the last scene. He also describes what happens to everyone in the final scene. The brow beating drill sergeant is excellently played by Mike Mihm. He runs roughshod over these men, barking orders, demanding push-ups and forcing them to eat inedible food as well as doing forced marches through the marshland. His show stopping scene happens in the second act with a powerful revelation scene with Epstein.
The rest of the cast do splendid work in their roles and are perfectly cast in their roles. The pivotal role of the nerd Arnold Epstein is played by Alex Silberblatt. Arnold claims to have medical problems, brings a note from his doctor that Toomey tears up but in his own way eventually stands up to him thereby winning the day. Alex’s poignant moment occurs when he describes being handcuffed, his head put into a latrine filled with urine by two bullies. Conor M. Hamill returns in triumph for his third time at Ivoryton Playhouse as the gung ho recruit, Joseph Wykowski who constantly has a hard on. He gives this character the high intensity it needs. Wykowski calls the other recruits derogatory names, reads Eugene’s memoirs out loud to the others and makes love to the hooker for 34 minutes. In the what would you do if you only had a week left to live which is initiated by Eugene, he says he wants to make love to the Queen of England because the King only makes love to her once a year to have a prince. I last reviewed Conor as Francis, the beat up stage manager in “La Cage Aux Folles” here back in 2014. Chandler Smith is a hoot as Roy Seldridge. His one liners are comical and his last wish in the game is that he wants to make love to the seven richest women in the world and have them pay him a million dollars each. Chandler also grapples with Eugene while Joe reads his memoirs, says he’s past his peak with the hooker while going in her room and out in a very short amount of time.
Ethan Kirschbaum plays Don Carney excellently. He is constantly singing in the show. His funniest line is SOS is the first food I’m afraid of. For his last seven days he wants to sing at Radio City Music Hall for 4000 women and a Decca Record producer. Don sings “Embraceable You” to close Act 1. Ethan also has a marvelous scene with Eugene when he reveals that he really can’t make up his mind about things. George Mayer makes a marvelous theatre debut as Hennessy. He is first seen as a private who is constantly on KP duty. Later on in the show, he has a secret revealed in an astounding manner. George’s interactions with the other cast members are right on the money and this should be the first of many shows in his theatrical career. Rounding out the cast are Moira O’ Sullivan as the prostitute, Rowena with whom Eugene makes love for the first time and Andee Buccheri as Daisy with whom he falls in love for the first time. So for a fantastic look at seldom done Neil Simon show, be sure to catch “Biloxi Blues” at Ivoryton Playhouse. Tell them Tony sent you.
BILOXI BLUES (26 April to 14 May)
Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street, Ivoryton, CT
1(860)767-9520 or www.ivorytonplayhouse.org