BILOXI BLUES. Written by Neil Simon; directed by Kate Gleason. Produced by Miners Alley Playhouse (1224 Washington St., Golden) through June 26. Tickets available at 303-935-3044 or www.minersalley.com.
Miners Alley produced Neil Simon’s BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS last season, and the current show is the second in the Simon trilogy. I truly hope this means that Miners Alley is going to include BROADWAY BOUND, the third play, in their 2017 season. It’s the only one of the three I haven’t seen previously.
But what fun to revisit Eugene Morris Jerome as he leaves home for the first time to join the Army. We meet him as he is traveling on the train from Fort Dix to the swamps of Biloxi, Mississippi, for basic training with four other members of his platoon. Continuing the device of letting Eugene talk to the audience about what is going on, we learn about his comrades and his state of mind as he embarks on this life-changing journey. He announces his goals for Biloxi—to survive basic, to lose his virginity, and to fall in love.
In Biloxi they meet Hennessey, the sixth member of their platoon, and their drill instructor, Sgt. Toomey. Compared to the models of sadistic drill instructors we’ve seen in the movies (“An Officer and a Gentleman,” “Platoon,” “Stripes”), Toomey doesn’t seem too bad. It’s just that this particular platoon is so woefully unprepared for physical training. Especially Epstein, a young Jewish intellectual with a “nervous stomach” and a soft body. What he lacks in physical agility, however, he more than makes up in mental strength, understanding of human nature and compassion. He becomes Toomey’s target and his nemesis.
Eugene continues his role as observer to the human characteristics in those around him, but the circumstances also demand that he get involved this time. The unauthorized reading of his “memoirs” provides the catalyst for change in the platoon’s relationships and loyalties. The women in the production—the weekend pro (Devon James) and the good girl at the USO dance (Chloe McLeod)—help Eugene achieve his personal goals.
This strong ensemble is led by John Hauser as the personable and insightful Eugene. He doesn’t look as Jewish as Michael Kosko, who played Eugene in BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS, but John has the winning personality and easy grace that make Eugene lovable. Jude Moran returns to play the harsh and flawed Sgt. Toomey. Jude can be funny, Jude can be sweet, but Jude is really good at being mean, arrogant and overbearing. These two are ably abetted by their comrades in arms. John Wittbrodt as Epstein looks and acts the milquetoast of a man, but surprises with his passion, his repressed anger and his capacity for understanding. A natural leader of men, Trevor Lyons as a menacing Wykowski shows that he is capable of understanding and change. Tait Petersen as Carney shows the potential for his character to become a bully, but allows his gentler side to come through. Eddy Jordan plays the flawed Hennessy, and Erik Fellenstein goes from weak to strong as Selridge.
As usual, the technical team at MAP came through with a well-constructed, well-lit and appropriate set which included the basic barracks set as well as four breakout sets for the train compartment, the mess hall, the brothel and the dance hall. The military veteran next to me informed me that the wrong kind of knot was used for the military neckties, the characters’ shoes weren’t polished and their uniforms weren’t properly pressed. None of this diminished my enjoyment of the production.
A quick trip down the “back way’ to Golden will result in another enjoyable theater evening at Miners Alley.
WOW factor: 8.5