Josh Burton, artistic director at New Court Theatre, began Neil Simons trilogy last season with Brighton Beach Memoirs and continues with Biloxi Blues, the further adventures of Eugene Morris Jerome. Eugene, a World War II draftee, has been sent to Biloxi, Miss., for basic training, and the production centers on an ensemble of diverse young men who suffer the indignities of Army life under the leadership of Sgt. Merwin J. Toomey. Josh Burton is Toomey, the redneck non-com determined to make soldiers out of these young men. Burton represents the manipulative Toomey in every way. From his Army haircut to the extravagant buckle on his uniform, we see him as the personification of power.
Alex Burkart is Eugene, an aspiring writer from Brooklyn, who constantly records the activities of the company in his little black book. Arnold Epstein, the intellectual, critiques the Army in general and refuses to knuckle under. The resultmany hours cleaning the latrines. Jim Burling (Roy Selridge), Israel Gutierrez (James Hennesey), Derik Marcussen (Joseph Wykowski) and Aaron Sitrick (Don Carney) comprise the rest of the unit. As in many World War II stories, we see a representation of ethnic groups. Confrontations arise, and Toomey adds to the confusion by scapegoating the two young men from Brooklyn.
Simons ability to write humorous dialogue is evident in this script. The audience reacts to the witty lines, and although the play runs more than two hours, the pacing is good, and we are carried along by the story.
Casiena Raether is Rowena, a working girl from Gulf Port, who, as Eugene says, is not full time as she provides her service only on the weekend. Her understanding of the inexperienced Eugene provides him with his first sexual encounter. Later in the play, he meets Daisy Hannigan, played by Caitlin McCown, a Catholic girl whose beliefs are often at odds with the Jewish boy from Brighton Beach. In spite of religious differences, their love of literature evolves into the beginnings of true love.
Neil Simons contributions to theater cover a wide spectrum, but his stories of Eugene, his boyhood, Army years, and finally his introduction to Broadway, remain my favorites. They reflect his life and values. This cast, a unified ensemble, perform his work beautifully, and every character is played just as the playwright envisioned.
Burton plans to complete the series with Broadway Bound next season. We look forward to the production. New Court continues with I Do! I Do! opening July 27 and running through Aug. 12. Biloxi Blues plays through July 22. For tickets, call (608) 368-3060.
From the July 12-18, 2006, issue