A play about young soldiers with the “Biloxi Blues” turns to gold by the end of the performance in Civic Center Music Hall’s intimate basement City-Space Theatre. Real, yet removed in time and space, Neil Simon’s bittersweet memory play of basic training during World War II is given a rousing performance by a nine-member Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre cast. A collaboration with Oklahoma City University, the CityRep offering was performed on a bare stage that simple props turned into a troop train, barracks bunks and a mess hall, or the bed of a prostitute. Drew Michael Feldman led the ensemble as Eugene Morris Jerome, the play’s narrator and author surrogate who wants to become a soldier and writer, lose his virginity and fall in love, not necessarily in that order. Feldman was wonderfully wet-behind-the-ears yet acute in his observations (for his future memoirs) of others and himself (as someone whose fault is trying to stay uninvolved and “above” the barracks battles). Emilio Velasco got across the more complex reactions of Arnold Epstein, a Jew and intellectual who puts himself on a collision course with the drill sergeant when he resists basic training as a mindless exercise. Ben Hall was forceful but balanced as Sgt. Merwin J. Toomey, a man whose advocacy of rigid discipline seems to always be tempered by an underlying humanity — until he comes perilously close to his breaking point. But it was the performances turned in by supporting cast members — going beyond stereotypes — which contributed greatly to the richness of the production, briskly directed by Michael Jones. Oscar J. Kincheloe had the right physical presence to play a big man who doesn’t want others to think he’s stupid, and Linda Leonard made the local prostitute a surprisingly sympathetic character. Even more touching and understated was Colleen Marie Daly’s portrayal of a girl from a local Catholic school who meets Eugene at a USO dance and becomes innocently infatuated with him. Garrett Henderson communicated the underlying indecisive qualities of his character, while Justin McInnis performed his part with just enough detachment and a hint of something unknown behind it. Last but not least, in the play’s “bless them all” spirit, Daryl Bradford gave the right aggressive edge to a person of Polish ancestry whose anti-Semitic response to Epstein seems to lessen (a little bit). A bit dated and sometimes a little cliched but bringing back the mood of the World War II period, helped by music of the era during interludes, “Biloxi Blues” offers spectators a thoroughly enjoyable evening. — John BrandenburgComments
“Biloxi Blues”•When: 8 p.m. Fridays, 4 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through March 20. •Where: Civic Center Music Hall’s CitySpace Theatre, 201 N Walker. •Information: 297-2264, 364-7111 or www.cityrep.com.