Theater Review

Biloxi Blues Directed by Mitko Bouzakov Beersheba Theater, April 4

Biloxi Blues 370 (photo credit: Courtesy PR)
Biloxi Blues 370
(photo credit: Courtesy PR)
Eugene Morris Jerome (Tom Avni) wants three things when he boards the train for boot-camp in Biloxi, Mississippi in 1943: to be an author, to stay alive and to lose his virginity. He starts on number one by keeping a diary, accomplishes the second because the play is a kind of flashback, and succeeds, despite himself, with number three.
Biloxi Blues is the second in Neil Simon’s semi-autobiographical Gene trilogy that includes Brighton Beach Memoirs and Broadway Bound. It is a wry, compassionate coming of age comedy that succeeds because it judges neither the characters nor the situations, attributes that the production wonderfully reflects.
Events are staged as a series of framed portraits, moments of memory held forever against Sasha Lisianky’s versatile set of bald frames and planks that is train, bootcamp, latrines or wherever.
And although Gene narrates, the play centers around Arnold Epstein, a fellow Jew in this strange environment, sickly, obstinate, given to rare flashes of ironic humor and determined to retain his individualism in an organization equally determined to suppress it. Skinny, bespectacled Tom Hagi plays Epstein with a desperate, nerdy courage that reaches its apex when he must confront sadistic Sgt. Toomey, their drill instructor. Ron Bitterman portrays him with gleeful, jaw-thrust-out pugnacity, and an unexpected, sudden vulnerability.
Epstein even gains his fellow rookies’ respect, played with verve and appealing boyishness – after all, the lot of them are just out of kid-hood – by Itay Polishik as wannabe tough-guy Wikowski, Oren Cohen as Carney, who dreams of stardom, Eliran Harus as lonely Hennessy and Ori Mazki as born follower Selridge.
There are only two women in the play: part-time whore Rowena to whom Adva Adani imparts a deliciously brisk practicality and impeccable comic timing, and Daisy Hannigan, Gene’s first love. Gene, always the observer, rarely involved, could easily be a prig, but Avni avoids that pitfall.
His Gene is an ardent innocent compelled by the times swiftly to manhood.
Inbar Danon’s Daisy is an innocent too. Their scene together is a little gem. Just like the production.