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Brooklyn Boy

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Consider the Polaroid. Its apparatus is big and simple and plastic. It doesn't look like a camera so much as a toy camera. The flash is automatic, no matter what a light-meter might read. The near-instant pictures -- flapped in the air by impatient photographers -- are glossy to the touch, nicely pre-framed in thick, white photo paper.

But Polaroids are almost always alarming: They reveal a split-second that occurred only minutes earlier. They are a time-capsule designed for the near-future, a disarmingly accurate portrait of what just happened. The people and objects in the picture aren't just familiar; they're still here. Children wave their Polaroids in the air, pointing at the image, as if to exclaim: "See this? This is what we look like when we're not paying attention!"

Donald Margulies is the Polaroid-taker of playwrights. He writes dialogue more realistic than actual conversation. He peppers every line with inside jokes and intimate observations and soul-crushing double-entendres. His 1999 drama, Dinner With Friends, was an experiment in subtle cruelty and self-doubt, an experiment that won him the Pulitzer Prize; while my colleague Ted Hoover vociferously disagrees, I consider Dinner With Friends one of the most magnificent dramas written in English.

Little Lake Theatre has taken on Margulies' less-known follow-up, Brooklyn Boy. By most measures, Brooklyn Boy is only a tapestry of clichés: The protagonist, Eric Weiss, is a guilt-addled Jewish writer from New York. His fame doesn't make him happy. His wife, unable to conceive, considers herself a unilateral failure. A cute young groupie tempts him. Hollywood offers him a movie deal, but (get this!) his producer butchers the script and the lead actor is a dipstick goy.

Making Eric a writer is self-absorbed enough, but must he be an autobiographical novelist? Must his father be dying of cancer? Isn't this just The Namesake? Oh, pardon: The Savages? No, wait: As Good As It Gets?

The plot is immaterial. See Brooklyn Boy for Margulies' ultra-realistic dialogue. See Brooklyn Boy for Sunny Disney Fitchett's masterful directing -- all the more impressive for being blocked in the round. See Brooklyn Boy because these are not ordinary community-theater actors -- as Eric, Art DeConciliis exploits his perfect hangdog expressions and nervous chuckles to maximum effect; he spends half the play looking convincingly hurt. See Brooklyn Boy for the rest of its talented cast -- because they have mastered Margulies' thoughtless insults, awkward compliments, dead-end jokes and merciless silences. Whatever the reason, just see it. Like that innocent Polaroid, its familiarity can be frightening.

 

Brooklyn Boy continues through Sept. 20. Little Lake Theatre, 500 Lakeside Drive, Canonsburg. 724-745-6300, littlelake.org.

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