Ethnic Theater - Jewish
Biltmore Theatre, Broadway
“Brooklyn Boy,” Donald Margulies’ new play which has just opened on Broadway, is certainly getting a strong response from Jewish audiences. And understandably so. This memory piece takes the boy back to Brooklyn—and Brooklyn back to the boy. Margulies, an award-winning playwright, has at last comes to terms with his own Jewish background, or so it would seem. Earlier pieces, including Margulies’ Pulitzer-prize winning “Dinner With Friends,” skirted the Jewish identity thing. But here Margulies confronts it head-on. Identity is the name of the game in this drama.
Eric Weiss, the play’s protagonist, is a novelist who has finally achieved success. His novel had made The New York Times best-seller list, albeit in eleventh place. But no one Eric encounters throughout the play is impressed with his success, beginning with his dying father and on to his estranged wife and boyhood chum.
Nor is Eric impressed with himself. Initially this seems like an admirable trait. Eric is no blow-hard, no braggart. But one gradually realizes that Eric has a hollowness, a lack of identity, that fame and fortune do not satisfy. Nor is his neediness satisfied by those he encounters.
The play itself is a mixed bag. Certainly Margulies has an unerring ear for the dialogue of his characters. Every line is right on target. And thus his characters come to life in all their complexities, as do their relationships with each other. And the play certainly has its haunting, comic, sensitive moments.
But “Brooklyn Boy” comes across more as a series of encounters than as an integrated piece—a well-structured play with a beginning, middle and end. The story seems to go nowhere except back in time.
Given Margulies’ importance as a contemporary playwright, it is no surprise that this production sports the top practitioners in the field. Director Daniel Sullivan and a flawless cast (Adam Arkin, Allan Miller, Arye Gross, Polly Draper, Ari Graynor, Mimi Lieber, Kevin Isola) have created a superb production.
And the audience (at the performance we attended) loved the show. It was, we felt, a predominantly Jewish audience which laughed at the in-jokes and responded to every Yiddish expression (and not just the ones that have become part of the English lexicon). Example: “I’m FAMished. And I don’t mean fa-MISHED.”
Whether non-Jews will respond with equal enthusiasm remains to be seen. But since Jewish theatergoers, we suspect, keep New York theater alive, this show should do well.
-- Irene Backalenick
Feb. 5, 2005