A review by Ellen Cicchitti
Producing a play based in World War II is tough. One has to get the speaking, the set design, and the costumes as accurate as possible. Luckily, it seems that the staff and actors at the Village Players of Hatboro lived up to that challenge when staging Neil Simon’s comedy play “Biloxi Blues” for their 2018-2019 season.
Directed by Daniel Cochran and Kevin Christian, the play follows the main narrator, Eugene Morris Jerome (Tim Schumann), as he undergoes basic training in Biloxi, Mississippi, where he plans to use his experiences in the army to further his writing career. He suffers along with his fellow soldiers-in-training under a tough drill sergeant and bonds with them over a shared visit to the local prostitute.
The main conflict of the play does not pertain to Eugene’s problems, however. The crux of the story is the battle of wits between the intelligent and meek Private Arnold Epstein (Jeff Pfeiffer) and the tough and hard-nosed Sergeant Merwin J. Toomey (Ray Proietti). Pfeiffer smoothly captured Epstein’s nervous tendencies and dignified beliefs, while Proietti made himself a force to be reckoned with as soon as he stepped onto the stage in his first scene. He was truly convincing with his commanding presence and disciplined behavior.
The rest of the actors settled into their roles nicely. As the viewpoint character Eugene, Schumann always seemed to be careful to make sure his mannerisms never betrayed a bias to either side, which fit the character well. Jeremy Greitzer was wonderful as the levelheaded private James Hennessy, and Ryan Rosenbaum played a terrific crude and overly casual Roy Selridge. Connor Kealey was delightfully intimidating as the bigoted Joseph Wykowski, and Mike Mac captured the hesitant actions of Private Carney perfectly.
While confident prostitute Rowena (Leah O’Hara) appeared onstage for a brief scene in the second act, her presence was still felt from many of the characters. This is especially true with Eugene, whose newfound confidence from having lost his virginity allows him to speak to and fall in love with the sweet and talkative Catholic schoolgirl Daisy Hannigan (Taylor Rouillard). Despite their brief presence, these two characters shaped Eugene’s life, and O’Hara and Rouillard played their respective traits to their fullest potential.
Simon’s writing was kept the same from its original publication. Nothing was added or changed, and that helped the story feel more natural than it might have had with censorship. Many of the characters were well-defined and had concluding arcs, and the well-built set enhanced the play’s establishing scenes. The jokes always landed in perfect tandem with the dialogue, and there was always a payoff to a setup within the scenes. The audience enjoyed every moment of the performance, wildly laughing at the jokes or gasping audibly whenever Wykowski cracked a slur at Epstein.
Because of these actors, the Village Players of Hatboro has put on an enjoyable performance of “Biloxi Blues.”
The play opened Friday, June 7, and will continue playing at 8:00 p.m. on June 14, 15, 21, and 22, with a Sunday matinee performance at 2:00 p.m. on June 16. Tickets and general information can be found at www.thevillageplayers.com/box-office.