Friday, March 6, 2009

Brooklyn Boy

Brooklyn Boy, now playing at Stage Coach Theater, is a wryly funny, though-provoking, well-acted play that's well worth seeing.

Ian Taylor plays Eric Weiss, an author of a new bestseller whose life isn't going as well as his newfound fame and success would make you think. His father Manny (director Rick Hunt), whose distant relationship with Eric is the inspiration for Eric's book, is dying of cancer. His wife Nina (Carly Latimore), a fellow writer who's jealous of his success, is divorcing him. Movie producer Melanie Fine (Jodi Nelson-Deerfield) wants him to make the screenplay "less Jewish." And a run-in with a childhood friend, Ira Zimmer (Ramiro Ruiz), leaves Eric feeling guilty about leaving his faith, his neighborhood, and his old friends long behind.

The interplay between Taylor and all the other actors in the show is amazing to watch. In his scenes with Hunt, Taylor portrays a son eager for his father's approval, which Hunt withholds in a teasing little dance. When Eric tells his father his book has made #11 on the best seller list, Manny says he didn't think the list went down that far. "I thought it was 10. Good thing they made it longer."

Taylor and Ruiz offer an intriguing exploration of the different paths people can take when they grow up. Why do some people feel the need to leave their hometown, while others feel obligated to stay? What gives one person the ambition to go on to college, while another puts down roots and takes over the family business? The questions are that much more intriguing because Ira idolizes Eric, but Eric's still not comfortable in his own skin and seizes on any nuggets of criticism Ira throws his way.

Watching Latimore and Taylor was like watching a fight where only one person is throwing punches. Eric still wants to get back together with Nina, who's alternatively furious with him and protective of his feelings, but mostly furious and jealous. There's an odd chemistry between the two.

There's an even odder chemistry between Taylor and Genny Ulmen, who plays Alison, a girl Eric meets at a book signing and takes back to his hotel room. With Ulmen and Taylor, it's on-and-off flirtation and shame as their conversation flits from deep to shallow and each characters morals and desires waver.

Nelson-Deerfield is great as the sycophantic, firm and foul-mouthed movie producer who asks Eric to remove some of the most meaningful, personal elements of his book as they prepare it for the big screen. And Ben Ulmen is funny as Tyler Shaw, a young actor who says he always finds his characters through their hair. But even these two somewhat stereotypical characters add powerful meaning to the play when Melanie makes Eric read his father's lines while Tyler pretends to be the protagonist of Eric's book. The scene Taylor and Ben Ulmen play out is wrought with emotion rapidly building up under the surface, just barely held in check, until Eric finally breaks down.

Don't let the fact that it's primarily a drama scare you off. Brooklyn Boy is funny, clever, and overall a well-told tale.

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