Reston Community Players Brooklyn BoyBy McCall Doyle • Jan 26th, 2009 • Category: Reviews
Reston Community Players
Reston Community Center, Reston, VA
$18/$15 Students and Seniors
Playing through February 7th
Reviewed January 24, 2009
Reston Community Players produce quality work, and Brooklyn Boy is no exception. Last night’s performance was an absolute treat, and the company should be very proud.
Director Joshua Redford has several key factors at work in this remarkable production. He’s picked an excellent play. Donald Margulies writes beautiful, thought-provoking plays with emphasis on relationships. RCP also has the resources to carry off the decidedly complicated and intricate set changes. Most importantly, he’s cast talented actors who uniformly shine in their roles.
Brooklyn Boy is the story of newly famous writer, Eric Weiss (Brantley Dunaway), who has left behind his humble (and Jewish) beginnings for the glamour of Hollywood. He’s the local boy made good…Columbia grad, notable novelist, and screenwriter. He returns to the old neighborhood to see his dying father Manny (Barry Altman), with whom he has a tenuous relationship. He drops off a copy of his best-selling book, which is “loosely” based on his own formative years in Brooklyn. During the course of the visit, he meets up with a childhood friend, Ira (Joshua Redford again, who stepped in at the eleventh hour to replace an ailing actor), and confronts many of the ghosts that have haunted him since his departure years before. He can’t resist calling on his estranged wife, Nina (Alana D. Sharp), a fellow writer who is giving up on the marriage for multiple reasons, not the least of which is her jealousy of his success.
He travels to the West Coast to finish his book tour, and connects with a college student at his book signing. Alison (Sylvia Kwan) is full of life, frank candor, and hero worship, which he finds very appealing. Later, at a high-powered film producer’s office, he has his script picked apart by Melanie Fine (Kelly Thompson). Melanie explains to Eric why he needs to change his screenplay, that it’s too long, too wordy, and most of all, too Jewish. She then reveals that Hollywood’s “It Boy”, Tyler Shaw (Jesse Baskin), is dying to play the lead role. In a totally memorable scene, Tyler walks into the meeting and does a reading for Eric to prove just how right he is for the part.
In a show so character-driven, the quality of acting is crucial; there wasn’t a weak link in the entire production. Margulies always gives actors a lot to work with, but these performers took each character to a new level. Each actor (with the exception of Eric whose presence is required at all times) only gets one scene to leave an impression on the audience. They each left something unforgettable.
Dunaway as the unmoored prodigal son is a success. His film experience shows here in his minimalist approach to the role, but he is carefully detached, later layering in his complexity of emotions, a man torn between love for his modest family and heritage as well as his cultivated new image. Altman is the typical father who instigates and exasperates his son with sardonic humor, yet he found softer levels that made him identifiable as everyone’s dad. Sharp was a satisfying and believable Nina. Her bitter facade and then genuine conflict with the divorce in the face of their strong bond was a pleasure to watch. Kwan gave an enthusiastic and charming Alison who was surprisingly intense for a simple college girl. Thompson struggled to overcome her strong Canadian accent as executive Melanie, but her spot on mannerisms and inflections made her very effective. Baskin was an engaging Tyler. His hilarious surfer boy had depth especially as the scene progressed. Last but absolutely not least, Redford in his role as Ira Zimmer. Redford didn’t merely get by in his last minute role; he gave a tremendous performance. He embodied the role of the irritating but lovable former friend, the one barely making a blip on society but is important to his wife and children, and later, on his old friend. Redford captured all of the nuances needed to make his character so likable while remaining cloying and aggravating, completely transforming himself into this character.
All aspects of the show were terrific. The lighting design (Ken & Patti Crowley) and sound design (Kevin Harney) helped showcase an impressive set by Andrew JM Regiec.
Pulling it all together was the skilled and steady hand of director Redford. His admiration for this particular script showed in his careful attention to the specific stage directions, and the truth of movement for every character. Each scene held a unique awkwardness and honesty. In delicate moments of silence, there was an opportunity to reflect on how the characters resonated with individuals. During the vigorous laughter, a bond formed between audience members. In the frequent eating during the course of the play, the significance of food in the Jewish culture was made apparent.
There was love and cherishing in the threads that held this show together, and it was something special to see. It’s something audiences should be running to see. And as Manny Weiss says, “Believe me, I can be a tough critic, you know.”
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