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Brooklyn Boy charms at Taproot
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Brooklyn Boy charms at Taproot

by Milton W. Hamlin - SGN A&E Writer

Brooklyn Boy
Taproot Theatre
Through April 17


Donald Margulies' charming, life-affirming Brooklyn Boy is delighting the loyal subscription audience at North Seattle's Taproot Theatre as well as a rewarding number of single-ticket buyers. The solid staging continues through April 17 and brings a neglected play by the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright to Emerald City's receptive theater community.

Margulies won his Pulitzer a decade ago for Dinner With Friends, staged off-Broadway by Daniel Sullivan, artistic director of the Seattle Repertory Theatre for nearly 20 years. Margulies' early plays were all set in Brooklyn, the New York area where the writer grew up. He had not used a Brooklyn setting for 12 years when Herb Gardner, an older playwright and a major influence on Margulies, suggested he return to his Brooklyn background. In this 2004 play, he did.

Taproot's Karen Lund, associate artistic director of the theater, guides the production with her typical sensitivity. The characters and the story take first place. Nothing is highly theatrical for its own sake. The focus is clearly on the people in the play. The scenic and sound design by Mark Lund (yes, the designer/director pair are husband and wife off-stage), the costumes by Dana Friedli, and the lighting by Richard Schaefer all contribute to the subtle success of the production.

The play itself is simplicity personified: six scenes, six events, six supporting characters. Eric Weiss - "our hero," as Lund describes him in an enlightening "Director's Notes" section in the program - is called back to Brooklyn by the illness and expected death of his father. A father/son reunion opens the play in a hospital room. Scene two features a hospital cafeteria reunion between Weiss and his best friend from high school. Ira, the friend, is convinced that he is featured in Weiss' novel, an obviously autobiographical account of his Brooklyn days. Weiss pleads universality and rejects the implication. The third scene finds Weiss in his father's apartment, reviewing a lifetime of memories. His soon-to-be ex-wife joins him for a trip down memory lane.

The fourth scene shifts to Los Angeles, where a literary groupie tries to seduce Weiss. The fifth scene finds Weiss in consultation with a Hollywood producer, a woman who "loves" his screenplay adaptation but finds it "too ethnic." Tyler Shaw, the prospective star of the Tinseltown version, breathes fresh air into the scene. In the play's final moments, scene six finds childhood friend Ira back in Weiss' life. "Family, faith and friendship," as Lund notes, are life's basic needs - a lesson that Weiss learns, or at least starts to learn, in Brooklyn Boy.

Taproot's cast is sound in every way. Jeff Berryman, a Taproot veteran as an actor and as a playwright, anchors the show as Eric Weiss. Robert Gallaher as Eric's father, Manny, is another strength to the production. Nicholas Beach, a Taproot newcomer, is bright as the dim Tyler. Alex Robertson's Ira Zimmer is the only character with two scenes with Weiss, and he makes the most of both of them. Lisa Peretti, Jesse Notehelfer, and Nikki Visel all add solid support as the three women in Weiss' life: wife, groupie, and producer. Most of the cast members have numerous credits at Taproot. All are making welcome returns.

Brooklyn Boy is a quiet play with a likeable group of people. Humor abounds despite the seriousness of the play's themes. It's a "little show" that can get lost in the broad scope of Seattle's diverse theater scene. It definitely deserves to be seen.

Brooklyn Boy continues at Taproot through April 17. The theater makes its home in the Greenwood district, at 85th just off Greenwood Ave. N. Ticket information is available at (206) 781-9707. Next on the Taproot schedule is Charley's Aunt, the cross-dressing Victorian classic, or as Taproot's clever poster design notes, "1892's Hit Comedy of the Season." It runs May 12-June 12.

Margulies, incidentally, is having a great season. The playwright's earlier Collected Stories is opening this month in New York with Linda Lavin in a leading role. A new play just closed off-Broadway and his early plays continue to be audience and critical favorites in regional productions.

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