Biloxi Blues @ Clayton Community Theatre

Biloxi Blues @ Clayton Community Theatre


Neil Simon, already famous as the master of
comic situation and dialogue, became more serious when he wrote the Eugene Trilogy. He based the three plays on his own life,
first Brighton Beach Memoirs about his adolescence in Brooklyn, Biloxi Blues about basic training
in the World War II army, and Broadway Bound, about his development as a writer for radio
and television. These plays are funny, but they take seriously
all the questions and problems his young protagonist deals with as he’s growing up. Biloxi Blues may go the deepest, even though
Eugene Morris Jerome grows more by observing than acting in it than he does in the other
plays. But Simon has ample material in the barracks
with half-a-dozen draftees responding, each in his own way, to this new, challenging,
confusing experience. Especially Arnold Epstein, who is really the
central character in Biloxi Blues. An intellectual, Epstein immediately clashes
with the sadistic training methods of drill sergeant Merwyn J. Toomey. The conflict climaxes in a private confrontation
between Epstein and a drunken Toomey, who pulls a pistol on Epstein and then orders
Epstein to arrest him for violating army regulations. The scene crackles with Michael Bouchard as
Epstein and Jeff Struckhoff as Toomey in the current production at the Clayton Community
Theatre. Along the way, Eugene, maybe still too much
the adolescent in Patrick Blanner’s consistent, committed, soft-spoken performance, loses
his virginity, meets the perfect girl, deals with antisemitism, and discovers the dangers
lurking in his planned profession as a writer when his mates discover his descriptions of
them in the journal he keeps. Jack Lehmann’s Joseph Wykowski, a big, tough,
born soldier, re-thinks his antisemitism. Sam Guillemette’s Roy Selridge loudly seconds
Wykowski and calls to his mother in his sleep. Jeremy Schnelt’s Donald Carney wants a triumphant
recital in Carnegie Hall. Greg Savel’s James Hennesey, a modest, quiet
guy, gets in trouble. Annie Valuska plays the prostitute who gently
initiates Eugene, and Amanda Crawford plays the perfect girl he meets at a USO dance. It’s a very strong cast responding to Sam
Hack’s intelligent direction. Andrew and Zac Cary designed the set that
the efficient crew quickly resets for multiple scenes, aided by Nathan Schroeder’s discrete
lighting. Jean Heckmann designed costumes and director
Hack the sound. With this production, I’ve completed the trilogy,
but I can see Broadway Bound again when Clayton does it next year.

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