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BWW Reviews: Desert Stages Theatre Sings the BILOXI BLUES

On a simple stage, set with rough-hewn foot lockers and makeshift bunk beds, Mark-Alan Clemente has assembled an able cast of actors who sing Biloxi Blues the way Neil Simon might have appreciated.

Simon's autobiographical voice is Eugene Morris Jerome, an aspiring writer who chronicles the moments of his tri-part odyssey from Brighton Beach to Broadway in his time-worn diary.

In this second of Simon's comic trilogy about Jerome, life in the barracks of boot camp is the rite of passage that thousands of young men endured in the '40's on their way to fight, ready or not, the good war. Basic training was, as many a masterworks ~ Leon Uris's Battle Cry, Walter Myers's Fallen Angels, Gustav Hasford's The Spirit of the Bayonet (precursor to Full Metal Jacket, to name a few ~ have revealed, in their own gritty ways, both a culture shock and a leveling, if not democratizing, experience. At the core of the experience was the indefatigable and seemingly merciless drill sergeant whose job, in a mere ten weeks, was to transform raw recruits into fighting men.

In Biloxi Blues, the five young inductees from the North who roll into their transitional home at Army Barracks are indeed strangers in a strange land, disoriented but compelled quickly to learn and adapt to Army language and discipline at the hands of their nemesis, Sergeant Merwin J. Toomey.

And each arrives with his distinctive biases, not the least of which relate to Jews and gays. It is where these biases are revealed that the comedy has its most riveting and poignant moments.

Ryan Toro's Eugene is convincingly naïve, precocious, whiny, and aspirational. His fellow cast members do a credible job in their roles.

It is, however, in the angst and defiance of Arnold Epstein, compellingly portrayed by Todd Michael Isaac and Sgt. Toomey, whose disciplinarian zeal is masterfully captured by Rick Davis, that the powerhouse moments of the play occur. For example, when Isaac recounts Epstein's ultimate humiliation in the barracks latrine, he is truly in the moment with an intensity that is matched by Davis's explosive revelation at play's near-end. These two deliver electrifying performances and give welcome balance, muscle, and texture to this production.

Desert Stages Theatre's production of Biloxi Blues runs through August 10th.

Photo Credit: Heather Butcher

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From This Author Herbert Paine