THEATER REVIEW: “Brooklyn Boy” gives vivid view of Jewish life

Let’s face it, families are crazymaking – especially Jewish families in Brooklyn (or so plays, films and novels would have us believe). The expectations, the inevitable comparisons with everybody else, the jealousy – you get the picture.

Donald Margulies gives us a vivid glimpse into the world of a “Brooklyn Boy” in his show playing through Feb. 18 at Scripps Ranch Theatre, directed by Ruff Yeager.

Novelist Eric Weiss (Chris O’Bryon) takes time from his book tour to visit dying father Manny (Paul Bourque) in the hospital. The shoe salesman may have lost some dignity lying there in that hospital gown, but his marbles and caustic tongue are still very much intact. When Eric announces that his new book will be #11 on the New York Times bestseller list next week, Manny’s response is, “They have a number 11?”

Even Eric’s dedication (“For my mother and father”) meets with “Where’s our names? Could be anybody’s parents” and the visit will end, as they apparently all have, with Eric failing to get the approval he so desperately wants.

Manny isn’t the only moribund thing in Eric’s life. His wife Nina (Amanda Cooley Davis) has asked for a divorce, perhaps due in part to professional jealousy. Nina is a failed writer – at least so far – and much as Eric wishes it, doesn’t seem able or willing to deal (or live) with Eric’s success.

Eric bumps into childhood buddy Ira Zimmer (Fred Harlow) at the hospital (Ira’s there to visit his mother). Ira has taken a more traditional path – staying home, marrying and raising children, achieving peace of mind in the process. Ira’s delight at seeing his old friend is met with something like indifference from Eric, who travels in faster circles now and cruelly brushes Ira off.

Back on the book tour circuit, the heartbroken Eric invites a young woman named Alison (Charlene Koepf) to his hotel room. She denies being a “literary groupie” and has, in fact, written a screenplay because “books are so over.”

And then there’s the meeting with film producer Melanie Fine (Wendy Waddell), who has optioned Eric’s book. She likes Eric’s script but (what else?) wants it “tweaked.”

She also brings along the funniest character -- a Hollywood pretty-boy actor named Tyler Shaw (Adam Daniel), who offers his work method: “I always find my characters through my hair. It’s like once I get the right hair, I become them.”

O’Bryon is excellent as the writer who brushes off the only person who reaches out to him. Harlow is heartbreaking as the friend so shabbily treated.

Bourque is a perfect Manny – a gruff working stiff, embarrassed by his lack of familiarity with Eric’s “literature thing,” and seemingly unaware of his son’s simple need.

Davis is fine with the somewhat underwritten part of Nina. And Koepf, Waddell and especially Daniel bring their fairly stock characters to vivid, often hilarious life.

Margulies has written better plays – “Collected Stories” comes to mind – but Scripps Ranch’s “Brooklyn Boy” is a fine production that will hold the audience’s attention to the end.

The details

“Brooklyn Boy” plays through Feb. 19 at Scripps Ranch Theatre, 10455 Pomerado Road (on the campus of Alliant International University).

Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.

For tickets, call (858) 578-7728.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.