When all the elements of a play work in sync, the result can be a satisfying evening of theater, which is what you have in Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre’s current production of Neil Simon’s autobiographical “Biloxi Blues.” The show’s a rewarding pleasure.
“Biloxi Blues” is the second play of Simon’s so-called “Brighton Beach” trilogy. We first met dedicated memoirist and aspiring writer Eugene Morris Jerome in “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” staged by CityRep in 2005. Now, it’s a few years later. World War II has broken out, and Eugene is bound for Army basic training in Biloxi, Miss., where so many young men — many who had never been more than 50 miles from home — began the most effecting experience of their lives.
The appealing, young actor Drew Michael Feldman is Eugene, not only the lead character, also the narrator, Greek chorus and playwright’s conscience. In a terrific performance, Feldman nails the role, beginning with a Brooklyn accent. Think of a young Woody Allen, and you’ll get the sound. Feldman is excellent as Eugene gamely experiences the vicissitudes of life, including love and sex, which are not necessarily the same thing, he learns quickly.
Simon’s characters have surprising depth. Sgt. Merwin J. Toomey (the reliable pro Ben Hall, excellent) knows he has to prepare young men in a short time to take each other’s lives in their own hands, but he faces his own vulnerabilities. The thoughtful, intelligent Arnold Epstein (young Emilio Velasco, also excellent) is Eugene’s only fellow Jew in the company. A provocative late scene with Toomey and Arnold reveals previously unknown depth and substance in the characters. Colleen Marie Daly gives a sweet performance as Daisy Hannigan, a good Catholic girl and Eugene’s first love.
Also fine as Eugene’s fellow trainees are Daryl Bradford and Justin McInnis. Only Linda Leonard as prostitute Rowena seems out of sync in a performance that is oddly understated. One wonders what Leonard and director Michael Jones had in mind for the character.
Jones’ Civic Center staging of “Memoirs” was a theatrical tour de force. He has a more problematic play to stage in “Biloxi Blues,” with its numerous scene changes. A certain amount of schlepping props on- and offstage occurs, but overall, his direction on Jason Foreman’s versatile scenic design works effectively. Add Lloyd Cracknell’s costumes and Pam Felenstein’s fine sound design, and the play’s elements fall into place, creating a successful production.
Theatergoers who favor Simon’s familiar, gag-laden scripts will find “Biloxi Blues” too introspective, but the humor here is sharper and wittier than his earlier work. Let’s hope CityRep completes the trilogy soon with “Broadway Bound.”