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The Arts
July 26-August 1, 2006

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'Brooklyn Boy'

Photograph by David Allen
Staying Alive: Craig W. Marker (center) goes all John Travolta on Victor Talmadge (right) and Amy Resnick (left) in 'Brooklyn Boy.'

Brooklyn Is in the House

You can't take Brooklyn out of the boy

By Marianne Messina

WHEN Eric Weiss (Victor Talmadge) writes a novel based on his boyhood in Brooklyn—a place he ironically claims he "escaped"—he hits it big. Next stop: book tours, jet-setting and hotel rooms. Evolving like the archetypal odyssey, Brooklyn Boy takes the wandering Weiss in episodic fashion to the proverbial islands of his life.

In Act 1, he visits his dying father Manny (Ray Reinhardt); he bumps into his boyhood friend Ira Zimmer (David Kudler); he stops by to see his ex-wife Nina (Pamela Gaye Walker). Promoting an episodic feel, the TheatreWorks production also highlights the way Weiss partitions off his past by wedging sets, like pie slices, onto a rotating platform for a Lazy Susan of offices, waiting rooms and living rooms.

Supported by Talmadge's dry portrayal, Weiss is inaccessible at every portal. He's remote with his writer ex-wife as she talks of career jealousy. He tells the yarmulke-wearing ("Let's bring you back into the fold") Zimmer that he outgrew their friendship—to which Zimmer replies, "How come I never outgrew you?" The back-and-forth between Weiss and Dad has the rhythm of an old comedy team. Eric tells his father he's written "a book that aspires to literature" and Manny replies, "Oh, well, hoity-toity!" Eric mentions the book's length and Manny queries, "What do you got to say that takes 184 pages?"

Throughout the play Weiss remains a spectator out of touch with himself and therefore both focus and foil for others, who narrate him by way of negative space. Though self-deprecating Jewish humor and ironic one-liners maintain a comfortable comedy, Talmadge's subdued, almost screen-acted portrayal of a man who's already a cipher dampens the first act somewhat. Yet the performance has a special precision. As many a transplant with a local or ethnic accent will do second nature, Talmadge's Weiss presents as generic abroad and slips into Brooklyn accent and Jewish cadence back home.

Things lighten up in the second act with a lively set of characters. Kristin Stokes shines as the bubbly college student and author groupie, Alison. Sharing her Kit Kats and gummy bears (yes, we get that she's way young), Alison's natural quirkiness carries the scene. And Amy Resnick's sharp portrayal of Hollywood agent Melanie Fine marks the strongest scene in the play, funny and illuminating in a way that overshadows the final scene (hero returns home).

Resnick's every mannerism is laughable. She assures Weiss that she's "a nice Jewish girl from Long Island" after telling him they can't have "all those Jews running around" in the movie version of his book. "It's one thing to be Jewish in a book; it's another to be Jewish in a movie." Dressed in bold, smart, fiery peach pant suit she offers Weiss a businesslike yet solicitous greeting, only to excuse herself as she crouches to yell into her cell phone: "You're our lawyer. What the fuck are we paying you for?" When Craig W. Marker comes in as Tyler Shaw, the gung-ho but very goy actor slated to play Weiss' boyhood self ("Kenny"), Weiss is outnumbered onstage for the first time—a masterly stroke by playwright Donald Margulies. "When I get the hair, I become the part," Tyler announces.

It's a pleasure to watch Marker break out of starlet mode to become the sensitive Kenny acting off-script and forcing a crisis for Weiss (who has taken the father's role). This full-circle moment is one of Margulies' sweetest and most ironic, for it's Weiss' own writing that finally touches a nerve like a message in a bottle returning to its sender. As for the play's ending, a little pat, a little patchwork (must Dad come back as a ghost to explain himself?), it ties things up in a familiar, affirming kind of way much like a deeply rooted ritual.

Brooklyn Boy, a TheatreWorks production, plays Tuesday at 7:30pm (except Aug. 8), Wednesday-Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2 and 8pm (July 22 and Aug. 12 8pm only) and Sunday at 2 and 7pm (Aug. 13 2pm only) through Aug. 13 at Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. TIckets are $20-$56. (650.903.6000)

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