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‘Brooklyn Boy’ traces a return to Jewish roots
March 12th, 2009
Director C. Michael Wright. Photo courtesy of Chamber Theatre.
Eric Weiss has big problems. His wife is divorcing him, his father is getting older but not more loving, and he’s having a mid-life crisis. But worst of all, he refuses to accept that his bestselling novel about growing up Jewish in Brooklyn is all about his own life.
His journey — from life in the fast lane to a reconciliation with his Jewish culture — is the central theme in “Brooklyn Boy,” which will conclude Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s 34th season, April 16-May 3.
“Brooklyn Boy” was loosely inspired by the life of its author, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Donald Margulies.
The Chamber Theatre cast will read from “Brooklyn Boy” at the Jewish Museum Milwaukee on Wednesday, March 25, 5-7 p.m. Wine and light hors d’oeuvres will be served. Cost is $5 for JMM members and $10 for non-members. For reservations, which are required, call Kathie Bernstein at 390-5731 or register online at PlanitJewish at www.jewishmilwaukee.com.
The JMM’s educator Ellie Gettinger will give a free, in-depth pre-performance presentation on Wednesday, April 22 at 6:30 p.m. in The Skylight Bar & Bistro.
Robert Spencer as Manny Weiss and Jim DeVita as his son Eric. Photo courtesy of Chamber Theatre.
For other pre- and post-performance events and for performance times and tickets, visit www.chamber-theatre.com
Chamber Theatre’s production, which is the play’s Milwaukee premiere, is directed by Chamber Theatre’s producing artist director, C. Michael Wright. He was interviewed by The Chronicle last week.
How and why did you decide to stage this particular play at this time?
I had been reading and enjoying a number of plays about families, so I sort of stumbled upon a common theme for our 2008-2009 season. I decided to call it “Celebrating Family.”
In “Brooklyn Boy” there’s a wonderfully accurate depiction of the rift that can develop between a father and a son with very different priorities. It’s a very funny and very moving account.
I’m an “early bird,” so I tend to nail down properties pretty far in advance. I believe in having lots of time to prepare. The process of planning and brainstorming with staff and artists can be so important for the ultimate success of each production.
All of the plays in Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s current season were chosen back in the summer of 2007, back when we had no idea the economy would take such a turn. “Brooklyn Boy” has a cast of seven, which is admittedly a bit large for our budget. But I was so hooked by this play that I think I would have committed to doing it regardless of the current economy.
The Jewish culture is generally known for being particularly supportive of the arts. Countless renowned theater artists — and plenty of theater patrons — have come from Jewish families. It just naturally follows that if many plays are written by Jewish playwrights, there are many plays with Jewish themes. I don’t really think it’s limited to Milwaukee.
Have you participated in staging a Donald Margulies play before?
I’ve never staged a Margulies play myself, but before I joined the staff here, MCT presented his Pulitzer Prize-winner. “Dinner with Friends,” back in 2003.
As you prepare this play, are you talking with or working directly with the playwright?
No, it’s not typical for a director to have contact with a playwright unless the script is still in some stage of development. “Brooklyn Boy" was written a few years ago, so Margulies has moved on to other projects. As a matter of fact, he just had two plays open in New York last month.
What, in your opinion are the play’s greatest strengths?
I feel this script is incredibly rich. It’s so specific, yet ultimately it achieves a universality. I didn’t grow up Jewish, but I can totally relate to these characters. This play is chock full of the struggles we all encounter with families and careers and love relationships and loneliness and religion.
I’m not sure if you’d call this a comic drama or a dramatic comedy, but there is definitely great humor and great pathos.
I’ve read that Margulies’ dialogue is excellent — nuanced and right on target. What are your thoughts about that? Will the cast in this production be speaking with Brooklyn or ethnic accents?
I agree that Margulies has a gift for dialogue. I find his writing to be so honest and multi-layered.
The play takes place in a variety of locations, so only a few of the characters are actually Brooklynites. They will be working with a dialect coach to guide them in sounding as authentic as possible.
Do think that stereotypes could be a problem in this play? If so, how have you taken on that challenge?
Stereotypes can be somewhat of a problem in any play. I think you need to start with strong actors that will work hard to find the truth in each and every scene. Hopefully the playwright has provided the actors with a good foundation through dialogue that is true-to-life and characters that are recognizable and complex.