Neil Simon Festival’s Biloxi Blues a gripping production

By Rachelle Hughes

Iron County Today

Biloxi Blues may be part of a trilogy, but it is also a strong stand alone play full of gripping characters set in WWII basic training army camp. Neil Simon Festival’s production of the coming of age play brought a satisfying installment of playwright Neil Simon’s “Eugene Trilogy” plays to the stage.

There are two ways to know if I love a play I am reviewing. I take tons of notes or I take none at all. Neil Simon Festival’s 2018 production was a play where I took one sentence of notes at the very beginning. After five minutes, I was completely drawn in by Neil Simon Festivals troupe of young men finding their way in a harsh and difficult environment as they explored the loss of their innocence and the discovery of their own courage.

Private Eugene M. Jerome (played by Quinn Osborne) joins five other young men at an army boot camp in Biloxi, Mississippi. Together they will maneuver the madness of Sgt. Merwin J. Toomey, their own prejudices, young love, the confusion over the loss of their innocence both mentally and physically, and each other’s idiosyncrasies. Osborne’s Eugene is optimistic, wide eyed and a wonderful casting for the role.

Joseph Price is a perfect foil as his best friend Arnold Epstein, the other Jew in the troop, who faces the most prejudice, some of the most harrowing experiences and perhaps the greatest transformation. His performance felt truly genuine to the character. Zane Brady brought Don Carney’s much needed quirky music moments to life in the play. Clarence Gilyard played an appropriately intense and yet complicated army sergeant. He was everything to be expected of an army sergeant and yet had enough unexpected layers of crazy to give depth to the character.

Each of the characters brought a fullness to the story and the actors performances felt truly authentic from the young men to Rowena, the prostitute, played by Holly Barrick and the young innocent first time love of Eugene, Daisy Hannigan (played by Kenna Fullmer).

It must be said that this is not a show for young viewers. The language and the scenes are often risque. There are sexual innuendos and situations and language typical of an army camp. While this can easily be a turn off for me personally, it felt as if this was a real portrayal of one young man’s phase of his life. Neil Simon’s storytelling is gritty and yet lyrical as it is retold through the diary of Eugene. To date Neil Simon Festival’s production of Neil Simon’s play Biloxi Blues has given me one of my favorite Neil Simon Festival experiences yet.

Biloxi Blues will play at the Heritage Center Theater through August 11.

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