Talkin’ Broadway: Brooklyn Boy

Originally published on Talkin’ Broadway.

Victor Warren and Ken Baltin

Victor Warren and Ken Baltin

We’ve all heard the platitude “you can never go home again,” but Donald Margulies isn’t listening. In his play Brooklyn Boy, now playing a limited engagement at the SpeakEasy Stage Company, Margulies counters this cliché both in his story and in his setting.

The plot follows newly successful author Eric Weiss as he takes a detour from his book tour to visit his ailing father in the Brooklyn hospital where he himself was born. The return to Brooklyn is also significant for playwright Margulies, whose early successes were all set in Brooklyn, a site he hasn’t written about since 1991’s Sight Unseen. But whether the return is significant to the audience is a somewhat more complicated question.

The play begins in the hospital room of Manny Weiss (David Kristin), a stereotypical old Jewish man struggling with cancer. In comes his son, Eric (Victor Warren), who seems so goyishe you can hardly believe these two men are related. Of course, a minute and a half into the play the ending becomes clear, right down to the last line, but Brooklyn Boy is less about the ending than it is about the journey. In fact, the entire play seems familiar – but “familiar” and “family” come from the same root, and with good reason.

Director Adam Zahler’s biggest achievement with this production is taking a script that could easily be played for broad laughs and mining it for its heart and humanity. If these characters and situations feel predictable, it’s because they ring true.

The arguments between father and son or between Eric and his childhood friend Ira (Ken Baltin) are at once heartbreaking and hilarious because they could just as easily play out in any family. Warren gives an understated performance, at times too much so. Because he is surrounded by such colorful characters, he runs the risk of fading into the background as the character around whom things happen. As the show progresses and action happens to him rather than around him, he becomes a much more effective (and affective) presence.

The supporting cast benefits from an array of actors armed with the skill to keep their colorful characters from becoming cartoons. Baltin in particular triumphs as the nebbishy deli-owner who never left home, keeping his neurotic tics just shy of camp to create a tragicomic moral center for the show.

While the destination of this trip through several familiar scenes may not yield any great insights into the human condition, there’s nothing wrong with being warmly reminded about the comfort of the familiar in our lives. “Make sure you give this show a good review,” my companion told me after the curtain call. “It’s just like my family.”

Brooklyn Boy in the Nancy and Edward Roberts Studio Theatre in the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont St in Boston now through April 1st. Wednesday, Thursday at 7:30 PM; Friday and Saturday at 8:00 PM. Matinees Saturday at 4:00 PM and Sunday at 3:00 PM. Tickets range from $42 to $60. Discounts available for students and seniors. For tickets or information, call the Box Office at 617-933-8600 or visit the Calderwood Pavilion box office, 527 Tremont St. or visit one of these websites:

Photo: Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo

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