Biloxi Blues @ News OK

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‘Biloxi Blues’ brings back atmosphere of World War II

BY JOHN BRANDENBURG | Published: March 11, 2011

A play about young soldiers with the “Biloxi Blues” turns to gold by the end of the performance in Civic Center Music Hall’s intimate basement CitySpace Theatre. Real, yet removed in time and space, Neil Simon’s bittersweet, memory play of basic training during World War II is given a rousing performance by a nine-member Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre cast.

Sgt. Toomey (Ben Hall, left) puts Eugene (Drew Michael Feldman) in his place in this scene from the CityRep/TheatreOCU production of Neil Simon’s “Biloxi Blues.” Photo by Wendy Mutz WENDYMUTZ

A collaboration with Oklahoma City University, the CityRep offering was performed on a bare stage that simple props turned into a troop train, barracks bunks and a mess hall, or the bed of a prostitute.

Drew Michael Feldman led the ensemble as Eugene Morris Jerome, the play’s narrator and author surrogate who wants to become a soldier and writer, lose his virginity and fall in love, not necessarily in that order.

Feldman was wonderfully wet-behind-the-ears yet acute in his observations (for his future memoirs) of others and himself (as someone whose fault is trying to stay uninvolved and “above” the barracks battles).

Emilio Velasco got across the more complex reactions of Arnold Epstein, a Jew and intellectual who puts himself on a collision course with the drill sergeant when he resists basic training as a mindless exercise.

Ben Hall was forceful but balanced as Sgt. Merwin J. Toomey, a man whose advocacy of rigid discipline seems to always be tempered by an underlying humanity — until he comes perilously close to his breaking point.

But it was the performances turned in by supporting cast members — going beyond stereotypes — which contributed greatly to the richness of the production, briskly directed by Michael Jones.

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