McLean High School
What would you do if you had one week to live? Maybe, like Private Carney, you would want to headline at Radio City Music Hall to an audience of screaming fans. Maybe, like Private Hennessy, you would just want to spend it with your family. Or maybe, just maybe, you would want to see Sgt. Merwin J. Toomey do two hundred push-ups for once! These are the fantasies of the C Company of Langley High School's "Biloxi Blues," an outstanding production marked by military precision, hilarious comedy, and an honest, heartwarming narrative.
The second chapter of the "Eugene Trilogy," "Biloxi Blues" is a semi-autobiographical account of the great Neil Simon's experience in basic training while stationed in Biloxi, Mississippi. The play premiered on Broadway in 1985, going on to win the Tony Award for Best Play. When he arrives in Biloxi, Private Eugene Morris Jerome has his mind on three things: staying alive, becoming a writer, and losing his virginity. As he navigates the difficult transition into a military lifestyle, Eugene learns about love, guilt, honor, and courage from the unconventional family of C Company.
In a star turn as Eugene, the versatile Cole Sitilides commented on the proceedings in Biloxi with humorous, self-aware asides, deftly tempering clever, bawdy jokes with touching vulnerability and openness. Sitilides was relatable, witty, and charming while developing nuanced, varied relationships with his fellow soldiers, his superior officer, and his first love, Daisy (Hannah Cameron-Cadenazzi.) Armed with a remarkably consistent Brooklyn accent, Sitilides's exploration of Eugene's complex Jewish identity won the hearts of every audience member.
A foil to Eugene's rationality and compassion, Mark Bosset, as Sgt. Merwin J. Toomey, was a paragon of unwavering discipline and military excellence. A drill sergeant through and through, Bosset's belligerent demeanor and overbearing presence hid a genuine love for his job and a concern for his underlings, revealed in a his climactically-wrought final scene. The rest of C Company excelled as a uniform, yet distinctive ensemble, from the shy, intellectual Arnold Epstein (Josh Guinn), who challenged Toomey's dictatorial style, to the brutish bully Wykowski (Chris Morgan.) The indecisive Don Carney was played by Samuel Buroker, whose charming singing voice set the mood for many scenes.
Clean and effective technical elements placed "Biloxi Blues" at a near-professional level. With a period-accurate army color scheme of olive green and beige, costumes for the platoon were changed onstage, with varied pieces that fit together into a cohesive stage picture. The minimalist, yet realistic set was perfectly utilized by the actors, with no detail going unnoticed. In an extremely successful publicity stunt, the cast shaved their heads on camera for military uniformity, attesting to the production's commitment to realism.
The realities of war are unfathomable for most. The only way to deal with tragedy is to find solace in those around you. Six men entered basic training with their own dreams and prejudices, but left as a family, changed forever by the weeks they spent with the Biloxi blues.
McLean High School
"Once you compromise your thoughts, you're a candidate for mediocrity." In a world at war, pliant soldiers are needed; the United States needs young men to compromise their thoughts, comforts and dreams, all for the sake of the greater good. Where does that transition into compromise occur? Biloxi, Mississippi, in 1943, the setting for Langley High School's powerful rendition of Biloxi Blues.
Biloxi is home of the training facility which will metamorphose six contrasting adolescents into the heroes the nation requires. Of these six men, the plot focuses on the witty Eugene Morris Jerome, an aspiring writer and Jewish Brooklynite, who cleverly retells the antics of his platoon through his memoirs. This mirrors the show's origin as a semi-autobiographical work from Neil Simon, who had a similar wartime experience. The piece was first debuted in 1984, to critical acclaim memorialized by a Tony Award for Best Play, among other awards.
Biloxi Blues presents a unique challenge for its young actors. It requires an incredibly sophisticated sense of timing, accents and unparalleled maturity, as it presents difficult themes of war, sexuality, dignity and race. A true master of these skills was Cole Sitilides, who played Eugene Jerome impeccably. His triumphant high points included his impenetrable Brooklyn-infused affectation and meticulously timed delivery. He was able to break the fourth wall with incomparable fluidity, and similarly flit between charming comedic beats and burdensome drama. Mark Bosset, as the volatile and unhinged Sgt. Toomey, embodied Toomey's rigid physicality, marching precisely, with heels up. Wonderfully employed were his thick southern accent and unsettling and loud delivery.
The bumbling band of the six platoon members captivated with their hysterical individualism and endearing group chemistry. Peter Fox, as James Hennesey served nobly as a moral mediator with endearing vulnerability, at one memorable point showing his electrified shock in a major twist in the play. Josh Guinn as Arnold Epstein gave this rendition of Biloxi heart wrenching intrigue. He produced a fascinating dichotomy of intellectual dignity and timidity, allowing for a strong carrying of the show's ideological backbone, in which Epstein fights for his dignity, despite painful opposition.
The enveloping dazzle of Langley's Biloxi Blues came thanks to their technical department. Each facet held a painstaking attention to detail, keeping in mind the WWII era. Noteworthy were the props, which included a calendar flaunting a swimsuit-clad Betty Grable, precisely marked up to the mentioned date in the script. Sets were phenomenally crafted and imaginative. The bunk room was industrial yet interactive. Innovative and noteworthy were the rolling sets of a subway-tiled triple sink, for shaving, and a train car, complete with a top bunk. These set pieces were soundlessly manipulated with gorgeous fluidity by the Run Crew. Costuming incorporated sets of army-issued outfits, complete with accurately rubber-soled shoes, which were customized by players to embody individual character progressions. Makeup was tastefully sparse and a remarkable detail was Sgt. Toomey's scar on the side of his head, evidencing his often-mentioned brain surgery.
Neil Simon's Biloxi Blues is a gem, and to uphold the standard of his creation was a challenge Langley High School rose to meet. They communicated the shock, loss, and bittersweet nostalgia of war. Otherwise nameless soldiers were given faces, families, and vivid dreams. Langley succeeded in celebrating these young men for the human souls they were, and not the pawns many wanted them to be.