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On Theater: Touch of comedy lightens serious 'Boy'

April 03, 2013|By Tom Titus
  • Shelby Monoghan and Mitchell Cohen in"Brooklyn Boy" at Newport Theatre Arts Center.
Shelby Monoghan and Mitchell Cohen in"Brooklyn…

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.

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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.

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