By Tom Titus
12:23 PM EDT, April 3, 2013
A few years ago, the Newport Theatre Arts Center produced Donald Margulies' "Sight Unseen," a play about a famous artist returning to his roots that had premiered at South Coast Repertory.
Currently, NTAC is offering Margulies' "Brooklyn Boy," concerning a suddenly famous novelist returning to his roots, a play also born at SCR. And, oh yes, the same actor was/is featured in both Newport shows.
Margulies works both sides of the street in "Brooklyn Boy," ably directed by Gigi Fusco-Meese. He offers both cerebral conflict (with his dying father and his soon-to-be ex-wife) in the play's first act and comedy bordering on farce driven by some of the characters (or caricatures) he introduces in the second.
Mitchell Cohen skillfully inhabits the character of the novelist, Eric Weiss — and the fact that his name is very nearly the same as Houdini's real moniker isn't overlooked. Cohen virtually swims upstream in his painstaking efforts to convince his dad and his boyhood buddy that his new book uses their character traits only as reference points.
The first act is ultra-serious as Eric (or Ricky) encounters these two elements from his past and his estranged wife. The tenor switches to broad comedy in the second when he flies west to discuss a movie deal with an over-the-top agent, a callow, boyish actor and a sweet young thing who accompanies him to his hotel room following a book signing.
Richard Wordes, as the hospitalized father, hits the most recognizable note, portraying an aging dad out of touch with his son's world. A more pathetic figure is Jim Scheinkman's traditional Jewish buddy vainly attempting to bring Ricky back to the religious fold as he strives for a reconnection.
Two characters are indelibly created by Cheryl Pellerin — the sour spouse Nina, keeping Eric's overtures at arm's length, and the bombastic agent Melanie, peppering his screenplay with unacceptable alterations. Both performances, in their conflicting genres, are splendid.
Shelby Monaghan brightens the somber mood considerably as the underage cutie who turns up in the writer's hotel room for the West Coast version of a philosophical chat. The narcissistic young actor is nicely done by Mark Berglund, who keeps his outrageous character somewhat believable.
The Jewish heritage of Cohen's character is a pervasive plot element, and the play actually needs a glossary to explain the plethora of Jewish terms tossed about in the dialogue, particularly in Cohen's scenes with the ultra-orthodox character portrayed by Scheinkman as Eric attempts to dissociate himself from his religious past.
Andrew Otero's multi-set backdrop is generally altered smoothly, although the final transition is a bit rough. Mitch Atkins' lighting and Claudia Berglund's costuming enrich the overall effect.
The skillful rendition of "Brooklyn Boy" at the Newport Theatre Arts Center will give audiences the opportunity to ponder deeply and laugh out loud.
The Laguna Playhouse Youth Theatre opens its production of "Little Women: Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy" this weekend. Kelly Herman directs the Louisa May Alcott classic about a mother and her four daughters waiting out the Civil War for their father's return.
Performances will be given Fridays through Sundays until April 14 at varying curtain times. Contact the playhouse at (949) 497-2787 for ticket information.
Orange Coast College's Repertory Theatre Company will present "A Meeting of the Absurd," a collection of short plays, April 12 through 14 in the Drama Lab Studio. Featured are "Line", by Israel Horovitz, and "The Lesson", by Eugene Ionesco, both recommended for mature audiences.
Performance times are 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $5 in advance and $7 at the door. Call (714) 432-5880 for further information.
TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.
If You Go
What: "Brooklyn Boy"
Where: Newport Theatre Arts Center, 2501 Cliff Drive, Newport Beach
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through April 28 (one Saturday matinee at 2 p.m. April 27)
Information: (949) 631-0288