Presented by Manhattan Theatre Club in association with South Coast Repertory, casting by Nancy Piccione/David Caparelliotis and Joanne Denaut, at the Biltmore Theatre, 261 W. 47 St., NYC, Feb. 3-March 27.
"Brooklyn Boy," Donald Margulies' first play to have its New York premiere on Broadway, is entertaining and wise but offers no surprises, which is in itself a surprise from the author of "Found a Peanut," "Sight Unseen," and "Dinner With Friends." Margulies' previous plays have had time shifts and other dramaturgical sleights of hand. Daniel Sullivan, who directed last season's revival of "Sight Unseen," does a superb job with cast and script.
This traditional work is probably the author's most autobiographical play. Like his hero, Eric Weiss, Margulies grew up in Brooklyn, which he left for Manhattan, and both reached a breakthrough in their careers around age 50. Weiss, played sympathetically by Adam Arkin, is a novelist who has finally written a best-selling novel that is, ironically, based on the Brooklyn childhood he thought he had escaped from forever.
Success, however, has come with a price: He must return to Brooklyn to visit his dying father, who doesn't know that Weiss' wife is divorcing him. Everyone Weiss meets assumes that everything in his novel is autobiographical and all are condescending about his newfound success.
The play's structure offers Weiss in confrontations with people who force him to re-examine his past. Allan Miller makes a strong impression as his irascible father, Arye Gross is particularly convincing as the envious friend who never left Brooklyn, and, though strident at times, Polly Draper as Weiss' soon-to-be ex-wife convincingly shows the pain of their competitive marriage.
Mimi Lieber as the producer of the film version of Weiss' novel and Kevin Isola as the latest TV idol who wants to play the lead are both amusing Hollywood satires. As the 20-year-old college student Weiss picks up at his Los Angeles reading, Ari Graynor delivers the blunt, unsentimental voice of youth. Ralph Funicello's New York and L.A. sets make powerful visual statements.