nytheatre.com review by Maggie Cino
February 9, 2005
Brooklyn Boy is the story of a lonely and damaged man who only knows how to abuse people who love him and love people who abuse him. Donald Margulies has given us six real and complicated characters, and Daniel Sullivan’s direction brings this uncomfortable world into three dimensions.
Eric Weiss’s new novel is on the bestseller list. His career is taking off, but his writer wife is divorcing him because she feels like a failure and his dying father ignores Eric’s success. After visiting his father in the hospital, Eric meets his old Bar Mitzvah buddy Ira in the cafeteria. Ira still lives in his parents' house and runs the deli his father left him. He has forgotten nothing about their childhood, and has read every book Eric has published. Eric meets Ira twice during the play, and both times, Ira tries to get Eric to admit his feelings and pray with him, and both times Eric gets so angry he almost hits him.
From his first encounter with Ira, Eric goes to meet his wife Nina to pick up what’s left of his belongings. You feel the whole relationship in one scene. I doubt you’ll be more convinced a marriage is over by any other work of literature.
The next time we see him, Eric is in Los Angeles on the next leg of his book tour. He meets a college student named Alison at his book reading and brings her back to his hotel room. Despite the fact that she’s vivacious, dressed to kill, and infatuated with him, he spends most of the scene parked in a chair with his arms crossed over his chest. As the scene goes on they feign casualness as they remove shoes, jackets, though that’s as far as they get. There is tension in the air, but it isn’t exactly sexual.
From there, we get an extraneous scene in the producer’s office. Though Mimi Leiber as an all-business producer and Kevin Isola as the actor of the moment each play their parts to the hilt, by this point we’ve seen enough of Eric’s pattern to be able to predict the unhappy ending.
In all the scenes, you know at the start the relationship is over. The characters are beautifully drawn, the dialogue sparkles, but we know Eric will resist anything offered to him, and grab at anything he can’t have. This heavy inevitability causes the play to drag, which is a shame, because the characters are specific, vibrant, and the cast is a joy. Adam Arkin pays attention to every second of Eric’s struggles, allowing us into this complex being who longs for love he can’t believe in. Allan Miller’s dismissive father is clearly hiding something deeper, Polly Draper has Nina love Eric even when she can’t stand the sight of him, and Arye Gross as Ira brings a terrible sadness to his doglike devotion. Ari Graynor as Alison is especially delicious. She’s a valley girl, she’s driven, she’s dreamy, she’s pretentious, she’s shallow, and she has a complicated past. She’s constantly surprising—one moment she’s telling him how kids her age aren’t interested in literature and how can a guy like him get out of bed in the morning, and the next moment it turns out her favorite book of his is "The Aerie," by all accounts his most obtuse and pretentious work. Margulies has created a dense character with Alison, and Ari Graynor hits not only the notes but the silences in between.
In the very last scene, Margulies tries to let Eric come to terms with his past, his family, and his Judaism, but ultimately, Brooklyn Boy is not a play about revisiting the past, or a play about the dying. Every person and relationship that Eric has is already so close to dead it’s beyond saving. And every possible spark of life, like his relationship with Ira or Alison or the possibility of his movie career, he kills during the course of the play. Eric, as well as Margulies, is not exploring his home or his past so much as admitting its loss, packing up the house, moving on. Life is something that will need to be created again.