Theater Review: ‘Brooklyn Boy’ at Artists’ Ensemble

By Edith McCauley
Theater Critic

This latest production by Rockford’s Artists’ Ensemble (AE) currently running at Rockford College’s Cheek Theatre is a perfect example of the fine works chosen by AE that bring to our community such a rich variety of drama and comedy.

Brooklyn Boy is Donald Margulies’ autobiographical memory of growing up in Brooklyn and the significance of his Jewish roots. Temple Beth-El is celebrating its 100th anniversary and is proud to be production sponsor for the show. In the program is a handwritten note to Temple Beth-El from Margulies.

The construction of the play centers on Eric Weiss, a novelist played by Alan Bell. Each scene is his interaction with his father, who is suffering from terminal cancer. A hospital bed is the center of action. Their lengthy discussion reveals a dysfunctional relationship. Malcolm Rothman, a fine Chicago actor, plays his part with authenticity, and we learn much from their dialogue. Later in the hospital cafeteria, Eric encounters Ira, a friend from his childhood. Jamie Button, who plays Ira, emphasizes the importance of their past.

The layers of action intensify, and we meet Nina (Katie Maringer), Eric’s wife, also a writer. They are going through an uncomfortable divorce. The fact that Eric’s latest book is a huge success complicates matters. Emotions run high, and we can see no happy ending.

Eric has written a screenplay, and a movie is in the works. A book tour takes him to Los Angeles, where a brief encounter with Alison (Katy Jenkins) in a plush hotel room gives both actors the opportunity for some hilarious dialogue.

Patte Armato-Lund gives the performance of her career. She is Melanie Fine, a film producer whose dissection of Eric’s work literally destroys the entire concept. We finally meet Tyler Shaw, a young actor who explains his ideas of a young Jewish boy from Brooklyn. He is amazing when he reads with Eric a conversation between father and son. We see hope.

The final scene occurs in Eric’s childhood home after the death of his father. It is then that the relationship is resolved, and Eric can accept his Jewish roots and truly mourn his father.

Alan Ball, making his AE debut, is a welcome addition to the company. He is the glue that holds the play together. Tears are shed, and we also experience the joy of the deep memories we all have.

Coming April 25-28 is Meet Me in St. Louis on stage at Rockford College. There are many familiar faces, and we look forward to the production. Tickets are on sale. Call (815) 226-4100. Also, It’s a Mad, Mod World at Midway Village April 20, a ’60s gala, can be enjoyed by calling (815) 394-5004. Book now.

From the March 20-26, 2013, issue

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