Business, Pleasure or Guilt? 

"Brooklyn Boy" reminds us you can go home again — but probably shouldn't.

click to enlarge art10_theater_brooklyn_boy_100.jpg

Everyone's a critic in the Barksdale Theatre production of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Donald Margulies' "Brooklyn Boy."

Eric Weiss (Daniel Ruth) is a novelist who returns home to Brooklyn and his Jewish roots at a critical juncture. His book "Brooklyn Boy" is a huge success and his father is on his deathbed. All of the pieces are in place for drama and comedy: a belittling father, a smothering childhood friend, an unfulfilled ex-wife, a manipulative Hollywood executive. What we get is something in between.

The cast is solid, particularly Joe Pabst's performance as Ira, the overbearing old friend who refuses to accept the valley that time and choices have placed between himself and Eric. Michael Toscano's performance as Eric's father, Manny, is infused with the perfect tone of guilt, sarcasm and defeat. When Eric tells him of placing 11th on The New York Times best-seller list, his response is like a Jewish Archie Bunker: "You mean there is an 11? I thought it only went to 10." Not much light is shed on Eric's character, though, so Ruth's performance is limited to portraying a self-important man trying to hold his life together as it unravels around him.

The heart of the story is nothing new —guilt and the return of the prodigal Jewish son are well-trod territories in the works of Neil Simon, Philip Roth and Woody Allen. While none of the characters breaks new territory, the tight dialogue and one-line zingers reveal Margulies' perfect ear for dialogue. Film executive Melanie Fine (played with a "Let me tell you something" attitude by Jill Bari Steinberg) worries the script is "too ethnic" and tells Eric (even after she admits to being Jewish), "Imagining Jews is much easier then seeing them."

Humorous character sketches illuminate the vacuous pursuit of fame, such as the obnoxious television star Tyler Shaw (Christopher Clawson), who wants to play the lead in the film of "Brooklyn Boy," and Alison (Audra Honaker), a young bubble-headed fan Eric takes back to his hotel room.

Director Keri Wormald elicits the right pitch from the actors, which keeps the dialogue and story lively from scene to scene. The scenic design by Greig Leach and lighting by Lynne M. Hartman are careful and effective — from the subtle backdrop of the outlined Brooklyn Bridge to the sparkling lights of Los Angeles.

All of the parts seem to be in the right place for something groundbreaking — a final scene in which Manny has a heart-to-heart with Eric is powerful and shines some light on Eric's own drive to succeed — but Margulies dances around topics from religious to familial guilt without digging too deep. Ultimately, it achieves something unexpected: While investigating the careful line between fact and fiction walked by writers, it makes a personal story universal. S

The Barksdale Theatre at Willow Lawn presents "Brooklyn Boy," Wednesday-Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Through March 25. Tickets are $32-$36. 282-2620.

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