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Eric Weiss (Robert Gomes, r.) returns to his Brooklyn roots to visit his dying father (Michael O. Smith) in Florida Studio Theatre production of “Brooklyn Boy.”
When you go
* “Brooklyn Boy,” by Donald Margulies, at Florida Studio Theatre. * Performances through Feb. 4. For tickets call 366-9000.
‘Brooklyn Boy’ performances don’t disappoint

By Wayne Barcomb
Having been an admirer of Donald Margulies’ work for many years I looked forward to Florida Studio Theatre’s production of his newest play, “Brooklyn Boy.” I hoped I wouldn’t be disappointed because his previous plays had set such high standards, one, “Dinner With Friends” having won a Pulitzer Prize.

Happily, “Brooklyn Boy” did nothing to undermine my admiration. Indeed, it has only enhanced it.

“Brooklyn Boy” is a moving and at times gut wrenching story of a man’s journey into his past, a journey in which he reluctantly views himself through the prism of his sudden tenuous celebrity in a world far removed from the Jewish Brooklyn in which he grew up.

Although the play is billed as a comedy and has been called “uproariously funny,” “Brooklyn Boy” carries with it a constant whiff of melancholy and angst, and the humor is bitter-sweet. It’s “You Can’t Go Home Again” with a Jewish accent.

Eric Weiss (Robert Gomes), after two so-so forgettable novels, has finally hit the big time with a best seller and a stint on the Today Show. He returns to his Brooklyn roots to visit his dying father in the hospital. Herein lies a priceless scene (one of six in the play) between Eric and his father, richly played by Michael O. Smith.

The scene is a wonderful combination of laugh out loud humor and searing emotion. Eric’s father, Manny Weiss, the quintessential Brooklyn Jew, is loathe to praise his son, who so desperately craves his father’s approbation.

When Eric tells his father that his new novel is number 11 on the best seller list, Manny says, “It goes to 11? I thought it only went to 10.”

Or when Eric tells him he was on the Today Show, his dad’s only reaction is to grimace and say, “Ech, what time did you have to get up?” All in all, a wonderful scene beautifully played by both.

Each succeeding scene in the play gets better as when Eric encounters his old boyhood friend, Ira Zimmer, played by Bruce Sabath with scene stealing ethnicity, highlighting Margulies’ greatest strength, his pitch perfect dialogue. Zimmer glides through a range of emotions, shifting effortlessly from sycophantic envy to combative confrontation.

Eric’s scene with his wife, in which he comes to realize and accept that it may be the last time they will see each other, is perhaps the most touching and beautifully written scene in the play – two decent human beings, hurting and helpless to do anything about it. It’s all very emotional – very real.

The act’s three scenes are equally laced with the bittersweet comedy that characterizes the entire play. Eric’s hotel rendezvous with Allison, a college student, after one of his book signings lays bare the emptiness he feels after the break-up of his marriage. The tryst he envisions with his nubile groupie ends in embarrassment for them both.

In the second act a trip to Hollywood for a conference with a profane, crass female film executive and her proposed leading man for a movie to be made of Eric’s novel ends equally disastrously. The laughs flow in each of these scenes, but they are subsumed under layers of an overriding sense of loss.

The two final scenes between Eric and his father – back from the dead for a final confrontation with his son – and another with Eric and his friend Ira Zimmer, bring the play full circle but with no resolution to Eric’s confusion and his melancholy.

Director Kate Alexander has assembled a cast who perform seamlessly without a false note. The play is tight and smoothly paced.

Robert Gomes as Eric Weiss is on stage throughout the play. He carries with him a mantle of sadness and serves as a kind of lighting rod for the richly drawn characters with whom he interacts. His is a difficult role in which a lesser actor could succumb to blandness. Gomes not only escapes this pitfall, but is the solid linchpin of the play.

Celeste Ciulla as Nina, Eric’s estranged wife provides the most moving scene in the play wherein she alternately excoriates Eric, tenderly feels for him, and bares her scarred emotions with an intensity that fills the theatre.

Sage Hall’s Allison, the Valley Girl celebrity chaser, plays the bedroom scene with hilarious results, and Jamie Day, the stereotyped Hollywood producer, and Matthew DeCapua as an obnoxious leading man type round out the splendid cast.

Steve Mitchell’s constantly changing sets set against the background of the Brooklyn Bridge and the New York skyline never let us forget where we are.

“Brooklyn Boy” may not be Margulies’ best play (hard to beat “Dinner With Friends” and “Sight Unseen”) but it could well turn out to be the best play you will see in Sarasota this year.

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