Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Biloxi Blues is set in 1943 and is at least partly autobiographic of Neil Simon's own experiences in World War II. There is much humor in this play, as well as elements of a more series nature, and the Ivoryton Playhouse production manages to embrace both the comedy and the drama superbly. Chief among the assets of this Biloxi Blues is the perfect casting of Zal Owen as Eugene Jerome, the playwright's alter-ego in the show. Director Sasha Bratt has also guided fine performances from the rest of his cast and the show feels very authentic. On Glenn David Bassett's expansive set, this show truly takes one into the world of the military, with lots of laughs, as well as more sobering moments.
In Biloxi Blues, it is stated early on that Eugene Jerome (who serves as the show's narrator, as well as being part of the play) has three goals to accomplish in his training in Biloxi, Mississippi: he wants to become a playwright, stay alive, and lose his virginity. Watching how this character goes about fulfilling these goals proves to be a delight. Zal Owen is just about ideal as Eugene, who keeps a journal of his military experiences and his impressions of the other soldiers who are training with him. Owen brings a nice sense of humor to the role as the audience watches the action of the play through his eyes.
Happily, Zal Owen is surrounded by other performers who also bring fresh life to their characters. As the misfit and rebel in the group, Arnold Epstein, Alec Silberblatt is excellent, as Arnold battles the hard-driving Sgt. Toomey, played with almost frightening conviction by Mike Mihm, at every step of the play. In a way, the character of Arnold Epstein almost becomes central to the show and Neil Simon does a great job of establishing an arc in the relationship between Arnold and Sgt. Toomey, with ultimately gratifying results.
There is also the tough, sex-crazed Wykowski, played wonderfully by Conor M. Hamill. I saw this actor do fine work in the play, Third, last season and he is just as good here. In addition to Wykowski, there are also the soldiers Selridge (the enormously amusing Chandler Smith) and Carney (skillfully played by Ethan Kirschbaum), the latter being notable for singing songs in his sleep. There is also Hennessy, who harbors a secret not to be revealed here. George Mayer portrays Hennessy extremely well and it is worth noting that Mayer is making his professional debut in this play.
Not to be forgotten, there are two women who figure into the plot. Moira O'Sullivan is both tough and funny as the prostitute Rowena, whom the soldiers visit, and she brings a certain slyness to the part, as well. As the endearing Daisy, whom Eugene Jerome ultimately falls for, Andee Buccheri is all sweetness and charm. Daisy proves to be the perfect match for Eugene in a scene at a dance toward the end of the play. In addition to be being the audience's guide, Owen manages to get all the laughs in the script, as well as offering a glimpse of the writer Neil Simon eventually would become.
Director Sasha Bratt keeps the show moving briskly; this is one production that seems to get better as it goes along. Bratt works very well with his designers, including Lisa Bebey, who provides the period-perfect costumes, and Tate R. Burmeister, who designed both lighting and sound, contributing heavily to the success of the show. Ivoryton Playhouse provides the ideal showcase for Neil Simon's seriocomic Biloxi Blues, and don't be surprised if you leave this show with a big smile on your face.
Biloxi Blues continues performances at Ivoryton Playhouse in Ivoryton, CT through May 14, 2017. For tickets, please visit www.ivorytonplayhouse.org or call the box office at 860-767-7318.