A Blues in Tune

biloxi3

Conejo Players Theatre

351 W. Moorpark Rd, Thousand Oaks CA

Playing thru February 4th, 2017

 

Neil Simon had the rarest gift any playwright can own: to make audiences laugh while presenting characters we recognize from our own time on Earth.

Erin Fagundes’ new staging of Simon’s “Biloxi Blues” has a few familiar characteristics: Fagundes directed the first in Simon’s ‘Eugene Morris Jerome’ trilogy ‘Brighton Beach Memoirs’ on the same stage in 2015. Then, her show also starred young Benjamin Glasner.

Now, like the slightly grown Eugene, both Glasner and the production have matured into a solid presentation. Glasner’s delivery is clear and his comedic timing is often brilliant. Likewise, the kinks of the 2015 production have been worked out: the sound is clear, actors miked, and stage manager Don Johnson moves John Holroyd’s sets around so smoothly and quietly, audiences will be hard-pressed to notice they’re happening.

In the play’s opening scene, Eugene introduces the future members of his company as they ride an old train to boot camp in Biloxi, Mississippi in 1943. With a clever bit of staging, Simon presents his characters as the metaphors he’d like them to be: Eugene is wide awake and narrating, Don (Noah Terry) is singing dreamily while he sleeps, the battle-ready Wykowski (Nick Bemrose) sits like a coiled snake ready to strike if disturbed, and the principled young man presumably ‘above it all,’ Epstein (Steven Silvers) sleeps on the baggage rack above the others.

It isn’t long before the men have arrived in their new barracks and Silvers’ Epstein is irritating his ‘intellectual inferiors,’ namely the face of the not-always-rational US Army, one Sgt Toomey (Bryan White). With Eve Kiefer’s sharp eye on the sound board and a fresh shave job around his noggin, White barely needs to amplify in order to make both his platoon and the audience jump at his command.

Epstein, of course, isn’t swayed. He’ll become Toomey’s foil and favorite toilet scrubber, and it isn’t until a run-in with a 300lb. Army cook that Epstein ever shows a crack in his principled defiance. Silvers’ affected tone, vocal pitch, mannerisms and posture are thoroughly one of an actor who is in his element, and it’s a pleasure to watch.

Epstein and Eugene have another foe, one closer to home. Pvt. Wykowski often comes dangerously close to echoing the very bigotry their country’s enemy espouses when he shows his racial and anti-Semitic stripe. Later, when he raids and reads aloud Eugene’s personal diary, he finds that the writer believes, despite his flaws, he’s this ‘khaki idiot’ is also the one most likely to win the Medal of Honor.

After all the back-breaking drills and marches finally comes a beloved weekend pass. Eugene and his buddies go directly to a lovely lady of the night (Judy Diderich), where we see some of Glasner’s best comedic timing on display. Eugene, a virgin, wrestles with the reality of climbing into bed with a woman with such comedic effect that some in the audience might feel tempted to pause and applaud.

Before their ten weeks are up, the men of Company C will express some of their deepest fears and dreams, and for some, those dreams might ultimately come true. For Epstein it’s revenge, for Eugene it’s meeting the lovely Daisy (Shelby Corley) and for the rest, it’s just to get out of Biloxi, into the war, and all things willing, to beat the odds and go home again intact.

 

BILOXI BLUES

Thru February 4th, 2017

Conejo Players Theatre

351 W. Moorpark, Thousand Oaks, CA

Tickets: 805-495-3715 or online at:

http://www.conejoplayers.org

 

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