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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Thoughtful Theater

Theater Review

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Milwaukee Chamber Theatre's final show of the season is a wistful comedy about fame, success, acceptance and family. Brooklyn Boy begins with a traditional comic conversation between an ailing father and his son, a successful author named Eric Weiss. Robert Spencer plays the aging Brooklyn, N.Y., native and Jim DeVita is the son who wants to make him proud. The actors deliver the poetic simplicity of the dialogue in such a way that it all feels comically invigorating.

The scene, which takes place in a hospital, ends with Spencer being wheeled away in his bed. The distinct feeling of satisfaction from that single scene makes the rest of the episodic play seem agreeably indulgent. After seeing DeVita in so many large ensemble shows over the years, it's refreshing to see the talented actor squarely in the center of a series of dialogues. Over the course of the play he meets a childhood friend (Tom Klubertanz), his estranged wife (Julie Swenson), a girl he meets at a bookstore reading in California (Rebecca Rose Phillips) and a Hollywood producer (Michelle Lopez-Rios). Everything is deftly balanced by director C. Michael Wright.

Most of the dialogue is one-on-one, but is handled well so as not to become monotonous. The sole scene with three people onstage is particularly fun. Weiss is discussing his screenplay for the film adaptation of his autobiographical novel with a producer and the action star (Darrel Cherney) who wants to play him. Cherney looks the part of the Hollywood actor, towering over DeVita during a reading from the screenplay. For a brief moment DeVita offers a subtle, spot-on impression of Spencer as Weiss' father. This is fun, thoughtful theater.

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre's production of Brooklyn Boy runs through May 3 at the Broadway Theatre Center.