Brooklyn Boy by Donald Margulies

Brooklyn Boy by Donald Margulies
Ensemble Theatre (NSW). Director: Anna Crawford.

Brooklyn Boy is a quintessentially New York Jewish play.

Middle-aged Brooklyn born novelist Eric Weiss puts two previous failures behind him when he finally hits the bestseller lists with his semi-autobiographical book about growing up in a Jewish family and neighbourhood.

Weiss has returned to Brooklyn, long left behind him, to visit his terminally ill father in hospital. He has spent his life seeking the approval of his father, an approval only ever gained in a beyond the grave final scene theatrical meeting.

That search for approval gives the play a measure of broader thematic relevance.

As portrayed by Brandon Burke, the central character Eric Weiss is never likeable - understandable, but not likeable. Still, a softer playing, while possible, would be less satisfying. Michael Ross is tough and unrelenting as the terminally ill father who continues to minimise his son’s creative aspirations on his deathbed. Bumping into childhood friend Ira (Daniel Mitchell) at the hospital, the interaction between Ira and Burke’s Eric, who repeatedly pushes him away, effectively distills Eric’s relationship to his past and his traditional culture.

Lenore Smith appears first as Eric’s ex-wife, then as a wickedly stereotyped Hollywood producer, insisting on the removal of the novel’s Jewishness in order to create a successful screenplay. Two young actors also spark life into the second act in single scene cameos - Matilda Ridgeway, delightful as an attractive young fan, clearly up for far more in Weiss’s hotel room than raiding the mini-bar for chocolates, and Leigh Scully, as an actor up for the lead in the film adaptation.

With lots of angst and set-up in the first act, this lighter touch after interval provides a much-needed lift.

Anna Crawford’s direction is taut and focused, while Graham Maclean’s single set effectively represents the play’s several locations by simply varying props and furniture.

Very culturally specific, while Brooklyn Boy does have entertaining elements for a broader audience, it strikes me as most appealing to an audience which shares / understands its sensibilities.

Neil Litchfield

Image: Matilda Ridgway and Brandon Burke in Brooklyn Boy

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