North Coast Journal banner

Sept. 23, 2004
Behind the Stage Door
A supreme lesson in discipline


I'VE SEEN NEIL SIMON'S BILOXI BLUES THREE TIMES now; of the three, North Coast Rep's production is the only one I've thoroughly enjoyed. Veteran Director Gene Cole has assembled seven men and two women and a tech crew that reads like any Humboldt theater's wish list. The result is a smooth, professional production that was a joy to watch from beginning to end.

Biloxi Blues is about a boot camp deep in the Mississippi swamps in 1942. It's a "memory playPhoto of Henry Kraemer and Stacie Nunes in Biloxi Blues," told from the perspective of one of the characters who can stop the action and directly address the audience. The narrator, Eugene Morris Jerome, is played by talented Henry Kraemer, who also played the lead in the first part of Simon's trilogy last year at NCRT. Whether he will finish the series next year or be at school elsewhere remains to be seen.

[At right: Henry Karemer as Eugene and Stacie Nunes as Rowena. Below: corrie Sutter as Daisy and Henry Kraemer as Eugene.]

We meet the recruits as they are slowly transported across America on a train. Jerome introduces his sPhoto of Corrie Sutter and Henry Kraemer in Biloxi Bluesmorgasbord of American stereotypes, the coarse and insulting Ray Selridge (John Ireland), the bigoted Pole, Joseph Wykoski (Nathan Pierce), a deluded Don Carney (Josh Kelly) and Arnold Epstein (Victor Howard), who can't or won't submit to Army discipline and consequently spends much of his time swabbing latrines.

As soon as the recruits arrive at Biloxi, they meet demented drill sergeant Merwin J. Toomey (Zachary Rouse), who subjects them to a Kafkaesque exercise in discipline and a display of his total control over their lives.

The last recruit appears in the mess hall. Slender, nervous James Hennesey is marvelously played by Arcata High senior Chris Dewey, who rises to his challenging role in a way that many professional actors could not.

The recruits fantasize about what they would do if they only had a week to live. Almost all of their fantasies are romantic or erotic. The exception is put forth by the brilliant dyspeptic, Arnold Epstein, amazingly portrayed by Victor Howard. He wants to see Sgt. Toomey receive a dose of his own medicine. After an intense series of confrontations with the sergeant, Epstein is the only recruit to get his wish. Their final argument is an almost too real scene where an apparently drunken Toomey manages a feat I had thought impossible, performed at a competitive level with the incredibly talented Victor Howard. Both men give the best performances of this scene I've seen; Howard doesn't give an inch to the self-described "cruelest, craziest, most sadistic goddam son-of-a-bitch you ever saw" -- even with a loaded 45-caliber pistol pointed at his head. Rouse ramps up the pressure and the tension until the audience realizes he's just proven his other point; he's really the "smart, compassionate, understanding and sympathetic teacher of raw young men" that his platoon will come to understand only with distance and maturity.Photo of Josh Kelly, Zachary Rouse and Victor Howard in Biloxi Blues

Meanwhile, we watch Eugene get the three things he wanted, to "become a writer, not get killed and lose my virginity." The two women in the play, Rowena the hooker (Stacie Nunes) and Catholic school girl Daisy Hannigan (Corrie Sutter), represent the two extremes of women available to young recruits in wartime. While sexy Stacie pops Eugene's cherry, it's dharmic Daisy to whom he gives his first love.

[At left: Josh Kelly as Carney, Zachary Rouse as Toomey and Victor Howard as Epstein]

The lights, set and staging are elegantly minimal; Dan Stockwell deserves credit for following the playwright's direction to be both representational and free flowing. All the technical elements were excellent, especially Marci Hutson (costumes), ReNey Smith (hair and makeup), Gabriel Groom (sound design), and props (Theresa Ireland, Wanda Stapp and Marcia Hutson).

The only thing NCRT needs to address, and soon, is how to get more air into its auditorium. I might almost believe the house managers' repeated statements that it is impossible without spending money, except that the two times I saw Cabaret the air was fine.

The poor air quality results in a torpid and dispirited audience, with increased coughing and restlessness through an otherwise brilliant second act. If you're asthmatic like me, take your inhaler and sit in the last row where a slight air current blows in from the west. Otherwise get to the theater early and grab a seat in row one through four. Season ticket holders can, for the first time, get reserved seating at NCRT.

Biloxi Blues continues Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at NCRT, 300 Fifth St., Eureka, through Oct. 9 at 8 p.m. with one 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, Oct. 3. Because of adult language, topics, mature content and violence, I recommend this production for mature teens and older only. Call 442-NCRT for tickets or visit for more information.




North Coast Journal banner

© Copyright 2004, North Coast Journal, Inc.