September 28, 2010
Serious social, racial and ethnic issues are tackled with superb comic timing by a young and talented cast in the Annie Russell Theatre production of Biloxi Blues. This coming-of-age tale following the life of Eugene Morris Jerome is the second chapter in a trilogy of plays by American playwright Neil Simon. The thought-provoking and amusing production comes to life on the Annie Russell stage from September 24 through October 2.
Biloxi Blues follows Eugene and his fellow draftees through the trials and tribulations of their basic training in Biloxi, Mississippi as they prepare to be shipped off to the front lines of World War II. Under the seasoned direction of Charles Rodgers, professor of theatre history at Rollins, the action onstage centers on how the characters mature within the social constructs of the setting.
"The cast matured a little during rehearsals by putting themselves in the shoes of the characters they played," Rodgers explained. "The young men in Biloxi Blues were reaching maturation in a very unlikely and unfamiliar place. They experienced the hardships of boot camp, living a life that none of them were trained for and that none of them thought they would find themselves in; they were consumed with the fear of growing up and of dying young."
These fears and challenging thematic elements in Biloxi Blues are well handled by its cast. Ryan Lambert (Class of 2013) and Jonathan Keebler (Class of 2011) both achieve standout performances. In constant conflict with each other onstage, the two performers explore the boundaries of human emotion while struggling with societal bigotry.
"It's fun to portray a jerk," said Lambert, who onstage displays a mistrust of the Jewish members of his platoon. "I have to become everything that I hate, which really stretches me emotionally."
In the leading role of Eugene is Brian Hatch (Class of 2012), a veteran of the Annie Russell. His repartee and unique mannerisms accomplish many awkward and compelling moments, especially when his character falls in love with Daisy Hannigan, convincingly played by Victoria Doyle (Class of 2012).
Making his Annie Russell debut is Will Bouton (Class of 2014), in the role of athletic yet ignorant jock, Roy Selridge. "I've had some previous film acting experience, but theater performance is entirely different," said Bouton. "I can definitely see myself appearing in many more future productions." Bouton's talents will also be displayed on the basketball court once the Tars start their season on November 12.
Professor of Acting Eric Zivot masterfully portrays the mentally sadistic Sergeant Toomey. In his third appearance on the Annie Russell stage in as many years, it is obvious that Zivot thoroughly enjoys working alongside his students.
"It is a terrific opportunity for both me and the students," said Zivot. He went on to explain that the students get to see him developing a character the same way he taught them to do in class. "It is also great fun for me, as a professor, to be there when connections are made and put into practice on the stage."
A multifunctional set designed by Manuel Cordero allowed for smooth and quick scenic changes. The newly upgraded sound system in the Annie Russell Theatre was effectively utilized by Sound Designer Robert Miller. Splendid nuances by Lighting Designer Kevin Griffin, coupled with military drab costumes, designed by Lesley Brasseux Rodgers, combined to create an authentic atmosphere. Together, all these elements painted a believable recreation of 1943 Mississippi.
Following the matinee performance on Sunday, September 26, a special talk-back took place between military veterans and audience members, moderated by Chair of the Rollins Department of Theatre and Dance Jennifer Cavenaugh. Covering the controversial and politically charged topic of, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the panel, including Assistant Professor of Religion Creston Davis, Micah Purdy (Class of 2011), and Stefanie Lindlau (MAC Class of 2011), discussed self expression and the role of the warrior while relating them to themes within the play. Taking questions from the audience, the panelists focused on how social gains in modern society have surpassed military policy and understanding.
Biloxi Blues is the opening production of the fall season at the Annie Russell Theater. Judging by the popularity of this Neil Simon comedy, the Rollins Department of Theatre and Dance would be well-advised to consider presenting the other two plays of this trilogy. For show times, tickets and more information, call the box office at 407-646-2145 or visit rollins.edu/theatre/.
By Justin Braun (MBA Class of 2011)