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Guest Reviewer on ‘Biloxi Blues’ at Surfside

Rachel Bowen-Wilkerson. Photo by Chris Kridler

Rachel Bowen-Wilkerson. Photo by Chris Kridler

By RACHEL BOWEN-WILKERSON

Ten-Hut! Surfside Playhouse’s production of Neil Simon’s “Biloxi Blues” calls its audience to attention with a humorous, yet touching coming of age tale sure to leave you with a smile in your heart.

Set against the backdrop of World War II, the play opens with the a memoir-style musings of the protagonist, Eugene Jerome, who, along with 4 other new Army recruits, have just spent five long days in a hot train snaking its way down the Eastern Seaboard to their new temporary home: Biloxi, MS. Upon arriving at their barracks, the young men are greeted by Sergeant Merwin J. Toomey, a brusque bear of a man who is the epitome of military authority.

Over the course of basic training the new recruits confront numerous physical and mental challenges, from the harrowing to the hilarious, including strict army regulations, racism, and sex.

Throughout, veteran director Michael Thompson effectively utilizes the space and ample talent of his quite capable cast. Neil Simon’s alter-ego Eugene Jerome, often on the sidelines, watches and reports the goings-on in his strange new world away from his home of Brighton Beach, New York. Actor Zack Roundy aptly brings Jerome to life. His company-mates, such as idyllic soldier Joseph Wykowski (Matthew Davis), the baby-faced Don Carney (David Bondy) and Roy Selridge (Timothy Smithlin), the likeable James Hennessey (Spencer Fleming), and the complex contrarian Arnold Epstein Matthew Hall) form Jerome’s unlikely alliance.

Seasoned stage actors Christopher Bearden as the hardened Sergeant Toomey and Matthew Hall as authority-questioning Arnold Epstein deliver stellar, complex performances as they continually butt heads throughout the action. Yet, even during the more emotionally charged scenes, the two remain controlled, never once crossing the line from character into caricature.

Other stand outs include the polar opposite supporting females, including Julia Cole as effervescently lovable Daisy Hannigan and Jessica Foix as the worldly, ravishing Rowena.

The stage construction, scenic art, and backdrop design teams commendably transition between location and realistic time passage. The appropriate period costuming also helps to heighten the realism.

Popular 1940’s era music and visually appealing lighting all combine cohesively to help transport the audience back in time, evoking a charming, more innocent time period before the advent of television, smartphones, and the Internet.

SIDE ‘O GRITS: “Biloxi Blues” runs through March 22 at Surfside Playhouse, 301 Ramp Road, Cocoa Beach. Tickets are $22 general, $20 seniors and active military and $17 students. Call 321-783-3127 or visit www.SurfsidePlayers.com.