Sunday, January 29, 2012

Parade Productions: Brooklyn Boy (3 reviews)

Parade Productions launched itself into the South Florida theatre scene with Donald Margulie's Brooklyn Boy, which opened at The Studio at Mizner Park on January 26, 2012.
Brooklyn Boy has been called one of Donald Margulies’ funniest and most moving plays. With sparkling dialogue, humor, and just the right amount of poignancy, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright examines the consequences of success and reminds us that nobody’s journey through life can be made without some bad decisions, wrong directions, or regrets.
Kim St. Leon directed a cast that included Avi Hoffman, Blaze Powers, Jacqueline Laggy, Michael Gioia, Sy Fish, Ryan Didato, and Candace Caplin.

John Thomason reviewed for the Broward/Palm Beach New Times:
Parade Productions, South Florida's newest theater company, premiered its first show in Mizner Park last weekend, but signs indicated that even members of the team weren't entirely happy with the result. During the intermission of Brooklyn Boy, a 2004 dramedy from Donald Margulies, an usher made a point to tell me, out of the blue and in a reassuring tone, that "the second act is more upbeat.
The truth is, both acts are of a piece with each other; they share humor and pathos in equal measures, and they're both decent presentations of a decent play. Brooklyn Boy is, after all, lightweight Margulies, lacking both the penetrating insights on marital life of his Dinner With Friends and the complex moral meditations of his Collected Stories (though it contains faint echoes of both).
As always, Margulies proves expert at cutting through bullshit. Each scene is an examination of the false fronts we put on to appease the people around us, knowing that repressed truths will eventually surface, one way or another... Still, the play's weaknesses are legion. Margulies' allusions to You Can't Go Home Again are all too obvious and clich├ęd, and even the most flawless production values couldn't save a pitifully sappy metaphysical denouement.
But even when the material was stronger, I wanted more from a production that appears bereft of imagination. Hoffman, onstage every minute, seems to go through the motions, discovering his character's emotional core only in the last two scenes.
It feels labored in part because of the lackluster direction of Kim St. Leon, who too often positions her characters staring blankly through fourth-wall windows, rendering their dialogue all the more theatrical. And with actors tripping over their lines so many times, opening night had the air of a preview performance.
The scene-stealing Gioia, as Eric's onetime friend Ira, does the best job transcending the production's bumps and bruises. His every gesture, stutter, and pained facial expressional resounds with miraculous realism. Praise should also be reserved for Laggy, convincingly portraying a small role that requires opposing emotional currents, and for Powers, an FAU theater student who brings charm, depth, and naturalism to her scene with the seasoned Hoffman.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
Hoffman’s performance is one of the virtues in the promising but flawed inaugural offering from Parade Productions, a professional company performing in Mizner Park under the aegis of Artistic Director Kim St. Leon and Executive Producer Candace Caplin. There’s a lot of talent here working very hard, but not a lot of electricity emanating from the elegiac, mildly funny, mildly moving tale.
Bravo to Hoffman for exploring serious roles such as the disillusioned Boomer in GableStage’s Superior Donuts last season. His natural geniality wins over an audience and he makes us see Eric’s shortcomings are outer manifestations of inner angst. Admirably, Hoffman avoids the comedy techniques that he does as well as anyone; the closest he gets are some mild slow burns and looks askance that are perfectly justified.
St. Leon elicits mostly solid performances, notable since all of the parts are far more difficult that they appear. Sy Fish has the hardest role. He makes the father’s injurious comments so thoughtlessly organic that we may resent him, but we understand that he is simply clueless to the pain he is causing.
One sign of how the show sometimes sags is the contrast when Blaze Powers (forgive the pun) jolts the energy level back up with her vivid portrait of the blunt-speaking young woman who happily accompanies Eric back to his room after a book reading. While Margulies makes her the stand-in for everything wrong with the shallow youth culture (“Fiction is so over,” she says), Powers makes the most of when the script gives her three dimensions to play.
Ryan Didato nails a cartoonish character so different than his assistant Ken in Red last fall at GableStage. Margulies, St. John and Didato deliver one surprise as Tyler reveals he actually has acting chops.

The weakest performance comes from Caplin as a stereotypical.. caricature of a driving Hollywood producer... Caplin lacks the essential whipsnap speed and bite... The tempo and energy of the play sags badly at this crucial moment in the second act.
The whole production has a professional feel under St. Leon’s leadership. This extends from David Sabel’s sound design to Sean McClelland’s scenic design set against the iconic vision of the brick stanchions and metal cables of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
Though the company is new, the talent involved in this inaugural production mostly consists of seasoned South Florida theater professionals.
Kim St. Leon, the company’s artistic director (Caplin is its executive director), is a smart veteran director. And set designer Sean McClelland has done a deft job of creating the play’s multiple locations against the symbolic backdrop of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Brooklyn Boy has some funny moments, but Hoffman – a double Carbonell Award nominee for his 2011 performances in Superior Donuts at GableStage and Hairspray at Actors’ Playhouse – isn’t playing a comic role here. That fact seemed to throw some of his more chatty fans on opening night, but Hoffman is a solid serious actor whose proven musical and comedic abilities aren’t his only tools.
Brooklyn Boy, which could benefit from some judicious trimming, isn’t the greatest play from a man whose work also includes Sight Unseen, Collected Stories and Time Stands Still )a play that will be produced at GableStage in May). But it certainly contains resonant, sobering truths, and is a promising debut for Parade Productions.
Parade Production's Brooklyn Boy will play through February 12, 2012.

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