A Jewish writer confronts his past and his religion in the Mandel Center’s Brooklyn Boy

Cuyahoga Community College Cleveland theater Through March 9, produced by the Mandel Jewish Community Center of Cleveland in association with Cuyahoga Community College Eastern Campus Theatre Arts, 4250 Richmond Road, Beachwood, 800-766-6048.

Who would think that writing a best-selling book that is optioned for a movie would turn out to be a miserable experience? But that's the drama at the center of Brooklyn Boy, the play by Donald Margulies that's now being produced by the Mandel JCC and Tri-C East.

At the core of this episodic tale is Jewish author Eric Weiss, who's written a novel based on his formative years in Brooklyn. When the book hits it big, he must then navigate his newfound success through the dangerous shoals of personal relationships involving his dying father, Manny (a sweetly crotchety Bernard Canepari); his ex, Nina (touching, rueful Dawn Youngs); and his old neighborhood buddy, Ira (a most amusing and human Noah Budin).

The separate scenes with those individuals have the snap and heft of truth, as Eric tries to grapple with — and extricate himself from — his past and his faith.

But the playwright sadly loses his direction once Eric lands in la-la land to pursue his movie deal. First, he winds up in his luxurious hotel room with a young literary groupie named Alison, played by a game Jane Conway. Even though it's not hard to accept a middle-aged man hooking up with a young chick in the abstract, it's not made clear why Eric makes this particular decision.

In the next scene, Eric meets with Melanie, a film producer, and Tyler, the mimbo actor who will be involved in turning his book into a movie. Maryann Elder is a delightfully over-the-top Melanie, and Ron Cuirle poses artfully as Tyler, but the whole scene is contrived and predictable — appropriate for a sitcom, but not a play with more serious aspirations.

Still, director Brian Zoldessy shapes all the moments with care. And Charles Kartali gives Eric the sheen of believability. But he's often forced to simply react to the others, who have better lines than he does ( "I respect books, and people like you who still bother to write them," Alison says). A less passive Eric would have given a better glimpse into the inner workings of this Brooklyn boy.

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Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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