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"Brooklyn Boy" goes home in Gallery Players' production
Thomas Wolfe wrote that you can't go home again, but it might take a real escape artist to get away completely.
Messenger photo by John Matuszak
Dan Welsh and Nancy Fox Spiler try to come to grips with the failure of their marriage and his sudden success as a writer in Gallery Players' production of Donald Margulies's drama Brooklyn Boy, being staged May 17 through June 1 at the Roth/Resler Theater. The protagonist also attempts to reconcile with his father and his faith as well as his past.
"I've come to see that Houdini and I actually have more in common than our names," comments Eric Weiss, the protagonist of Donald Margulies's Brooklyn Boy, being staged by Gallery Players from May 17-June 1.
"What did you ever escape from?" his companion asks.
"Brooklyn," Weiss replies.
Director John Dranschak sees the pull of the past as a major theme of the play.
"You can take the boy out of Brooklyn, but you can't take Brooklyn out of the boy," observed Dranschak, directing his first Gallery production after working with several area companies.
Weiss also runs into another dilemma of American life, the director noted. "When you get what you want, it's not always what you need."
Weiss, a middle-aged novelist experiencing his first commercial success, realizes that he hasn't gotten very far away from his past at all.
What's drawing him back is his best-selling novel, "Brooklyn Boy," a barely fictionalized account of his coming-of-age that has family and friends speculating on their fictional personas.
His own father, dying in a Jewish hospital, is worried about whether Eric has treated his parents fairly in the novel.
Weiss runs into Ira, a childhood friend at the hospital who is both elated and wary about becoming part of this roman a clef.
Ira, who stayed in their Brooklyn neighborhood and took over the family business, also has a parent who is dying.
He encourages Weiss to recite the Jewish prayer of mourning, hoping that it might make him feel better.
"Judaism has never made me feel better," Weiss responds.
"It's a triangle between faith, family and fame," commented Dan Welsh, playing Weiss. "How much are you willing to give up of one to have more of the other two?"
Even with his new-found success and notoriety, Weiss finds that there is no happily-ever-after ending.
His relationship with his wife, Nina, also a writer, is already strained by her repeated miscarriages. His new status further undermines their marriage, as Nina feels both envy and pride over her husband's good fortune.
Nothing is quite as it seems. Two Hollywood types who want to adapt "Brooklyn Boy" for the screen come across at first as shallow, but then demonstrate a hard-edged realism as well as an artistry that Eric begins to appreciate.
"Look, the studio didn't buy your book because it's a wonderful story about a Jewish family," the producer, Melanie, admonishes. "They bought it because it's a great coming of age story they think they can market and generate substantial profits from."
After a book reading, Weiss ends up in his hotel room with Alison, an aspiring screenwriter half his age who thinks that "fiction is like, so over."
To Alison, those who hang onto this archaic art form are poignant, "like watchmakers or violinmakers."
In the end, Weiss is drawn back to that world he thought he had left behind so long ago, where he hears the voice of his father and his faith offering comfort to the Brooklyn boy who has come home again.
In addition to Brooklyn Boy, first produced in 2004, Margulies is the author of Dinner With Friends, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2000, and The Loman Family Picnic. Two other plays by Margulies, who teaches playwriting at Yale University, have been Pulitzer finalists.
Welsh has worked with several area companies, including MadLab, Blue Forms and Actors' Theatre, as well as mounting his own one-man semi-autobiographical play in Toronto. This is his first leading role for Gallery Players.
The cast includes Charlie Sloin, portraying Eric's father, Manny. Sloin has been seen in numerous Gallery productions, including Fiddler on the Roof and All My Sons.
Other cast members are Rick Napoli as Ira; Nancy Fox Spiler as Nina; Kristina Kopf, as Melanie; Billy Ernhart, as Tyler, and Kate Murphy as Alison.
Performances are set for Saturdays, May 17, 31 at 8 p.m.; Sundays, May 18, 25, June 1 at 2:30 p.m.; and Thursdays, May 22, 29 at 7:30 p.m.
For information on the Gallery Players' production or to order tickets, visit the Gallery Players website at www.jccgalleryplayers.org, or call 559-6248
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