By Neil Simon
Director: Larry W. Cure
Stage Manager: Maria Leon Hickox
Set Designer: Kevin Brown
Sound Designer: Victoria Esquibell
Lighting Designer: Bryan Stevenson
Costume Designer: Janice Pennington
Properties Designer: Robin Dotson
Roy Selridge- Caleb De La Torre
Joseph Wykowski- Maximillian Swenson
Don Carney- Sean Sicard
Eugene Morris Jerome- Eric Berg
Arnold Epstein- John Marshall
Sgt. Merwin M. Toomey- Michael Phillip Thomas*
James Hennesay- Landry Beckley
Rowena- Rhonda Triana
Daisy Hannigan- Lauren Floyd
Understudy- Jacob Oderberg
*Mr. Thomas appears courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association by special arrangement. Actors Equity Association is the union of professional actors and stage managers
Reviewed Performance: 8/20/2022
Reviewed by Mildred Austin, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
BILOXI BLUES is part of a trilogy written by Simon, the precursor being BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS and the sequel, BROADWAY BOUND. All are semi-autobiographical reflections on Simon’s early experiences. The character of Eugene gives life to the author in the current version. BILOXI BLUES was well received on Broadway when it opened at the Neil Simon Theater on March 28, 1985. It won three Tony Awards in 1985, for Best Play, Best Featured Actor (Barry Miller), and Best Direction (Gene Saks).
BILOXI BLUES was an excellent choice for Theatre Arlington, given their access to several talented young men, and students in theater at the nearby University of Texas at Arlington. The casting is very even, with each actor holding his or her own throughout the production. The character of Eugene Morris Jerome, the reflection of the author, is portrayed in this production by Eric Berg. Eugene is the narrator who explains the action as it moves along. He and the other soldiers in his barracks are eventually united in friendship, though as recruits on a train to their first assignment, they are too anxious about their futures to engage in any serious bonding.
Berg is delightful, always has a big smile and an optimistic attitude. His energy level is high and his character portrayal is extremely believable. So is the case with all the cast. I actually forgot I was in the audience watching a play, the characters become so real. This was a true ensemble effort and a joy to experience. Landry Beckley as the unfortunate soldier, James Hennesey, provides one of the most real, most poignant moments I’ve seen in ages when he breaks down in sobs as he is arrested and taken by the sergeant to the brig. That moment will break your heart.
Caleb De LA Torre as soldier Roy Selridge instantly grabs your attention with his sometimes unsavory remarks, always delivered in a kind of devilish manner. He is an unrecognized hero; someone I would want beside me in battle.
Sean Sicard as Don Carney is another standout in the cast, though standout is the wrong word. He is a strong link in this ensemble and shows both his strengths and his weaknesses. He is not a warrior and we see it in his portrayal. He won’t be able to withstand the terror of war.
Maximillian Swenson is the perfect picture of a big, strong, but not overly brainy or sophisticated bodyguard. Fight sequences (well, after all, it is a bunch of guys) are beautifully choreographed and managed smoothly by the actors. Swenson has his share of those moments and is a pro.
The character of Epstein is sometimes viewed as the principal role in the ensemble of me, though I would assert he vies with Eugene for the honor. John Marshall presents a subdued version of the young Jewish man determined to hold his ground. He is the “brain” of the group, often retreating to reading or writing and expressing no real desire to engage with the group. He becomes the butt of Sgt. Toomey’s sarcasm, threats, and mistreatment. Brought to life by Michael Phillip Thomas, an extremely experienced actor, the sergeant is an overly complicated man, stifled by his position and looking for a way out.
The women appear to round out the story, and towards the end of the play. Triana is an adorable “hooker” and Floyd is the appropriate USO volunteer, brightly engaging in the time-limited dances at the post hall. She is cute, perky, and attractive immediately to Eugene, who announced at the play’s beginning he had two objectives: to lose his virginity and fall in love. Thanks to Triana and Floyd, he exits happily successful.
As a former high school theatre teacher, I was thrilled to see Larry W. Cure as the director. His experience is quite extensive and this man knows what he’s doing! The presentation of the action and story in this production is flawless. I had only one suggestion: at the beginning of the USO scene, Daisy is seen dancing with a soldier in the bedroom in which Eugene lost his virginity. I found that very confusing, as did my partner. It indicated to me that the young woman was a whore, which I don’t think was the intention. It seems quite easy to move them out to the down left corner and encase them in a soft glow of light so they are actually inside the USO area.
The use of those areas of light at appropriate times was brilliant and worked beautifully. Kudos as well to Victoria Esquibell for the vintage music that blended and assisted the actors to fold into a different time period. Same to Pennington for the perfect costumes, and Dotson for the props.
Should not overlook the set designer and scenic artist. The set, which revolved easily with the barracks on one side and the well-used bedroom on the other, provided smooth scene changes when necessary. The metal wall suggesting the former location was a definite hit!
All in all, this is a very enjoyable production. All who were engaged, either on or offstage provided the audience with one of the overall best evenings of theatre I have experienced in a while! I am absolutely delighted I had the opportunity to enjoy it and review it. Good Show!
Theatre Arlington, 305 West Main Street, Arlington, Texas 76010
Plays through September 4, 2022
Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. Sundays at 2:00 p.m.
Ticket prices range from $29.35 (adult) to $27.30 (senior and student).
For information go to www.theatrearlington.org or call the box office, 817-275-7661 from 11:00 -5:00 pm Tuesdays –Fridays