Chalked full of smart, fluid dialogue and characters we can easily relate to, this 2004 comedy-drama by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Donald Margulies ("Dinner with Friends") will amuse and delight you from the very beginning.
At first, we get the odd sense that we are watching a Neil Simon play. There are certainly more than a few similarities — a New York setting, stubborn Jewish men, snarky off-beat humor, autobiographical undertones. But as the action progresses, it becomes clear that what Margulies has here is distinctly his own. And it's fantastic.
"Brooklyn" is a character study more than anything else. These are tricky to do, and easy to disregard. But Margulies balances his work so deftly that when the end comes, it's a little hard to leave the world he's created for us onstage.
Eric "Ricky" Weiss (played by Victor Talmadge, who looks a bit like Michael Keaton circa the "Batman" years) is a middle-aged author who has finally made it to No. 11 on the national bestseller list. But good things, as Margulies reminds us again and again, hardly ever go unpunished.
We meet Eric in a Brooklyn hospital room. He has come to tell his dying father (Ray Reinhardt) about his great achievement, but is met with indifference and ridicule.
Out in the hospital waiting room, he runs into a childhood friend (David Kudler) who he hasn't seen in more than two decades. The friend treats Eric like a rock star, and Eric chafes under the adoration.
And then we follow Eric back to Nina's place, where we learn that Nina (Pamela Gaye Walker), a writer herself, has grown tired of living in Eric's literary shadow and is divorcing him.
The show's setup is so simple: just three scenes per act. Yet veteran Bay Area director Joy Carlin expertly guides us through each snapshot of Eric's life and seamlessly ties the pieces together into a perfectly fitted jigsaw puzzle. Completing the visual is scenic designer Annie Smart's cool rotating set that has us constantly catching glimpses of Brooklyn's glittering cityscape.
The second act has Eric traveling to Los Angeles, where he's sold the movie rights of his book, "Brooklyn Boy," to a big Hollywood studio.
We know that we are in L.A. the moment we are introduced to Alison (Kristin Stokes), a young college coed whom Eric brings back to his hotel room after his book reading. This scene is quite possibly one of the best in the whole show. Stokes' over-the-top flirtation and Talmadge's obvious unease makes the exchange so much fun to watch.
Things get a little shaky after that. The action moves to the office suite of a high-power movie producer played by Amy Resnick, who needs to be reminded to use her indoor voice. Her screeching may be character development, but it sure grows annoying fast. And Craig W. Marker as Tyler Shaw, a self-centered screen actor, comes across as trying a bit too hard with his "Saturday Night Fever" routine.
The two-hour production goes by in the blink of an eye, which was probably intentional. Though "Brooklyn Boy" peters out slightly at the end — Margulies gets a little too serious in the home stretch — it's hard to quibble with such a good play.
What: TheatreWorks presents "Brooklyn Boy," by Donald Margulies
Where: Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
When: Tuesdays at 7:30 (no performance Aug. 8); Wednesdays through Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. (Aug. 12 at 8 p.m. only); Sundays at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. (Aug. 13 at 2 p.m. only). Closes Aug. 13.
Contact: Call (650) 903-6000 or visit www.theatreworks.org
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