This semi-autobiographical Tony Award-winning play by American comedic genius Neil Simon follows the adventures of Eugene Morris Jerome as he is shipped off to boot camp during World War II. A classic coming of age tale told with wit, heart, and humor.
Approximate run time is 2 hours and 15 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. This show is best enjoyed by ages 14 and up. Please note that herbal cigarettes will be smoked on stage.
The American Veteran Project: Stop by the upper lobby to see an exhibit by photographer Andy Marchese, who has met with and documented the stories of veterans across the United States whose service dates back as far as the late-1930s. The mission of the American Veteran Project is simple: To record veterans’ stories today, so that others may learn tomorrow.
History on Tap: "Behind the Scenes of Biloxi Blues"
Thursday, May 14, 6pm at the Farmhouse at People's Light
People's Light and the Chester County Historical Society team up to introduce you to the director, dramaturg, costume designer, and set designer of Biloxi Blues. Explore the historical research and resource materials used to craft the production and discover how history intersects with the artistic process. An RSVP is required for this special program at email@example.com or 610-692-4800.
Immediately following the program, attendees have the option to attend Biloxi Blues at 7:30pm (food/drink service will end for the program at 7:15pm).
History on Tap brings history to you in the casual atmosphere of your favorite local bar or restaurant. There will be lots of great food and drink available for purchase. The program is free for the community to enjoy! Generously sponsored by Susquehanna Bank, and WCHE 1520AM. The portable sound system is sponsored by Colleen and Basel Frens. For more information click here.
Scoop on Wednesdays: History, Context, and Gossip
People’s Light continues its Scoop program, now on Wednesdays! Join us for a lively discussion before Wednesday 7:30 pm performances. Mary Elizabeth Scallen will host actor Pete Pryor from the production and get the inside scoop about such things as the rehearsal and production process, design choices, and the world of the play. The program begins at 6:00 in The Farmhouse Bistro on May 6th, May 13th, and May 20th. Cost of $15 includes light fare. Call the Box Office at 610.644.3500.
Dinner & A Show Packages
Enjoy a prix fixe dinner and a show package for $73 (Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday matinee, Sunday evening) and $82 (Friday, Saturday evening, Sunday matinee) at The Farmhouse Bistro prior to the Wed-Sun evening performances. That's a savings of up to 15% off the single ticket price!Call 610.644.3500 or order online.
Roy Selridge: Joseph Michael O'Brien* Joseph Wykowski: Jon Mulhearn* Don Carney: Ben Harter-Murphy Eugene Morris Jerome: James Michael Lambert* Arnold Epstein: Jordan Geiger* Sgt. Merwin J. Toomey: Pete Pryor* James Hennesey: Luke Brahdt Rowena: Julianna Zinkel* Daisy Hannigan: Clare Mahoney
Biloxi Blues is the second play in Neil Simon’s semi-autobiographical trilogy, which also include Brighton Beach Memoirs and Broadway Bound. The play picks up where Brighton Beach Memoirs leaves off. It’s 1943, and a now twenty year old Eugene Jerome, Neil Simon’s fictional-biographical representation of himself, is drafted into the United States Army during World War II. Eugene is sent to Biloxi, Mississippi to complete basic training. Determined to use his army experiences to help his writing career, he keeps detailed memoirs about his experiences. He meets a diverse rag-tag team of soldiers, and must navigate his new, harsh surroundings.
Biloxi Blues is a coming of age story about friendship and power. Eugene and his fellow recruits, including Arnold Epstein, a young man sometimes too wise for his own good, suffer under a hard-nosed hard-drinking platoon leader Sergeant Merwin J. Toomey, confront the terrible army food served up in the mess hall, and join together in a visit to a local prostitute. Eugene quickly learns about authority, accountability, strength and weakness, sex, assimilation, bigotry, homosexuality and love. In this coming of age story, he discovers that life can be both ugly and tender.
Eugene Morris Jerome is the narrator of the play. He is from Brooklyn, New York, Jewish, and his army experience represents his first time away from home. He has three goals for the war: to become a writer, to survive, and to lose his virginity. Eugene's eventual army assignment is being a journalist for an army publication.
Sergeant Merwin J.Toomey is the company's eccentric leader and drill instructor. He has served in the Army for over 12 years, was a part of the WWII North African Campaign, and sustained an injury necessitating a metal plate in his head. He constantly tests the soldiers, handing out grueling and unpleasant punishments for mild infractions.
Arnold Epstein is a private from Queens Boulevard, New York. He’s a sensitive private who hates the army, but has strong moral convictions.
Joseph Wykowski is a private from Bridgeport, Connecticut. He is brash and bigoted and a bit of a bully, but an earnest and dedicated soldier.
Don Carney is a private from Montclair, New Jersey. He thinks of himself as a crooner and irritates his bunkmates with his singing. Eugene believes that Carney's most noteworthy trait is his indecisiveness. Because of this, Eugene does not entirely trust him.
James Hennesey is another private in the platoon. He is eager to fit in, honest and innocent.
Roy Selridge a private from Schenectady, New York. He buddies up with the brash Wykoski and thinks he has a great sense of humor. He likes to play the tough guy.
Rowena is a prostitute from the local town of Gulfport to whom Eugene loses his virginity.
Daisy Hannigan is a well-educated and smart girl who attends a local Catholic school. She meets Eugene at a USO dance. They only meet again twice, but they declare their love for one another right before Eugene ships out.
Neil Simon has become one of the world’s most prolific and successful playwrights, having won more Tony nominations than any other writer of his time. Simon’s witty and comically endearing works touch on the reality of the American spirit, exposing the humanity and real struggles' in the characters he wrote.
Simon was born on the 4th of July 1927 in the Bronx, New York. He describes his childhood as a “squalid world of unhappiness.” His parents, Irving – a garment salesman – and Mamie Simon had a fraught relationship. Irving deserted the family repeatedly, staying away for months at a time. At times, Neil and his older brother Danny were forced to live with relatives and Mamie took in boarders and rented out the kitchen for ladies’ card games. Simon remembers “The horror of those years was that I didn’t come from one broken home but five…It got so bad at one point that we took in a couple of butchers who paid their rent in lamb chops.”
Simon sought escape at the movies, especially the comedies of Charlie Chaplain. He learned the importance of comedy as a defense mechanism. He reflects “I think a lot of what made me a comedy writer is blocking out some of the really ugly, painful things in my childhood and covering it up with a humorous attitude. I knew that whenever things were so terrible at home, the best thing for me was to go to the movies – do something to laugh until I was able to forget what was hurting.”
Simon began his writing career in television after serving a brief stint in the Army Air Force, where he was sent to Biloxi, MS for basic training during World War II. Teaming up with his brother, Danny, the Simons wrote for such comedy greats as Jackie Gleason and Sid Caesar. In 1950, the Simons landed their biggest TV comedy-writing gig with Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows”, affording the brothers the opportunity to work with other great comedic writers Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, and Carl Reiner.
Caesar’s writers, comprising the legendary "Writers' Room", included some of the best comedic minds of the 1950s - pioneers of television comedy. Veterans of the Writers' Room included Mel Tolkin, Carl Reiner, Larry Gelbart, Mel Brooks, Neil and Danny Sim
Over the next decade, Danny would move on to directing and Neil would begin to focus his career as a playwright. In 1961, Simon’s first Broadway play Come Blow Your Horn premiered, followed by his wildly successful comedic romance, Barefoot in the Park. By the 1970’s, Simon had become a major player in contemporary comedy.
Drawing heavily on his own life, many of his works are set in the working-class neighborhoods of New York City and the families who must navigate wants, loves, and losses. Simon’s autobiographical trilogy, Brighton Beach Memoirs (’83), Biloxi Blues (’85), and Broadway Bound (’86) have been credited as the playwright’s greatest achievement. In 1991, Simon was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his play, Lost in Yonkers.
Work by Neil Simon
Come Blow Your Horn (1961)
I Ought to Be in Pictures (1980)
Little Me (1962)
Barefoot in the Park (1963)
Brighton Beach Memoirs (1983)
The Odd Couple (1965)
Biloxi Blues (1985)
Sweet Charity (1966)
The Female Odd Couple (1986)
The Star-Spangled Girl (1966)
Broadway Bound (1986)
Plaza Suite (1968)
Promises, Promises (1968)
Lost in Yonkers (1991)
The Last of the Red Hot Lovers (1969)
Jake’s Women (1992)
The Gingerbread Lady (1970)
The Goodbye Girl (1993)
The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1971)
Laughter on the 23rd Floor (1993)
The Sunshine Boys (1972)
London Suite (1995)
The Good Doctor (1973)
God’s Favorite (1974)
The Dinner Party (2000)
California Suite (1976)
45 Seconds from Broadway (2001)
Chapter Two (1977)
Rose’s Dilemma (2003)
They’re Playing Our Song (1979)
Oscar and Felix: A New Look at the Odd Couple (2004)
The Garry Moore Show (1950) (TV)
California Suite (1978)
Your Show of Shows (1950-1954) (TV)
The Good Doctor (1978) (TV)
Caesar’s Hour (1954-1957) (TV)
Chapter Two (1979)
Stanley (1956) (TV)
Seems Like Old Times (1980)
The Phil Silvers Show (1958-1959) (TV)
Only When I Laugh (1981)
Come Blow Your Horn (1963)
I Ought to Be in Pictures (1982)
Kibee Hates Twitch (1965) (TV)
Max Dugan Returns (1983)
After the Fox (with Cesare Zavattini) (1966)
The Lonely Guy (1984)
Barefoot in the Park (1967)
The Slugger’s Wife (1985)
The Odd Couple (1968)
Brighton Beach Memoirs (1986)
Sweet Charity (1969)
Plaza Suite (1987) (TV)
The Out-of-Towners (1970)
Biloxi Blues (1988)
Plaza Suite (1971)
The Marrying Man (1991)
Last of the Red Hot Lovers (1972)
Lost in Yonkers (1993)
The Heartbreak Kid (1972)
The Sunshine Boys (1995) (TV)
Murder by Death (1976)
The Odd Couple II (1998)
The Goodbye Girl (1977)
Laughter on the 23rd Floor (2001) (TV)
The Cheap Detective (1978)
The Goodbye Girls (2004) (TV)
1957 Emmy Award for Your Show of Shows
1959 Emmy Award for The Phil Silvers Show
1965 Tony Award for Best Author – The Odd Couple
1967 Evening Standard Award – Barefoot in the Park
1968 Sam S. Shubert Award – Sweet Charity
1969 Writers Guild of America Award The Odd Couple
1970 Writers Guild of America Award The Last of the Red Hot Lovers
1971 Writers Guild of America Award The Out-of-Towners
1972 Writers Guild of America Award The Trouble With People
1972 Cue Entertainer of the Year Award
1975 Special Tony Award for contribution to theatre
1975 Writers Guild of America Award The Goodbye Girl
1978 Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture Screenplay – The Goodbye Girl
1979 Writers Guild of America Award Screen Laurel Award
1981 Doctor of Humane Letters from Hofstra University
1983 American Theatre Hall of Fame
1983 New York Drama Critics Circle Award – Brighton Beach Memoirs
1983 Outer Critics Circle Award – Brighton Beach Memoirs 1985 Tony Award for Best Play – Biloxi Blues
1986 New York State Governor's Award
1989 American Comedy Awards Lifetime Achievement
1991 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play – Lost in Yonkers
1991 Pulitzer Prize for Drama – Lost in Yonkers
1991 Tony Award for Best Play – Lost in Yonkers
1995 Kennedy Center Honoree
1996 Helmerich Award, the Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award is presented annually by the Tulsa Library Trust.
1996 William Inge Theatre Festival Distinguished Achievement in the American Theater
2006 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor
THE WORLD OF THE PLAY
Boot Camp and Keesler Field: Evolutionary milestones in US military history
By Gina Pisasale
As the US was forced to enter WWII in 1941, military basic training or boot camp was really a new thing. Until the Cold War, the idea of a professional standing army was not in the DNA of American history, mainly because of questions of who would control it and for fear that it could be a force wielded to threaten the republic. Instead, armies of citizen-soldiers were amassed on an as-needed basis. During the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and into the Civil War, local militias were gathered to defend their home soil and then disbanded after conflicts were over. WWI began in 1914. Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated in March 1917. Only a month later in April 1917, he asked Congress for a Declaration of War and promised the English and French a million man expeditionary force. Almost as soon as they were registered, soldiers were sent overseas, training as they went.
After WWI, The National Defense Act of 1920 allowed for an Army of 280,000, but Congress never appropriated funds to pay for much more than half of that strength. With war becoming imminent in 1940, Congress approved the first peacetime draft in American history but by 1941 forces were far from organized and ready to deploy. After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, President Roosevelt called for a massive expansion of the Armed Forces and the first U.S. troops arrived in the British Isles in January 1942. At this point, basic training took about 4 weeks where they checked if you were medically OK, taught basic military courtesy – or who and when to salute, got you relatively fit, gave you a uniform and weapon (with which maybe you got 20 hours experience using), and shipped you off.
Here is a WWII recruitment video made for young men in the Philadelphia area:
And here is a popular recruiting video, Winning Your Wings hosted by Lieutenant Jimmy Stewart about joining the Army Air Corps.
Through experiences in battle, the Army learned of the inadequacies of its training, equipment, and command structures and quickly acted to ensure that soldiers received more realistic combat training. Even so, there was really no time to standardize training and so there was not a set model for drill instructors. Each instructor took it upon themselves to impose a method of getting their men battle ready.
And so in Biloxi Blues, we get Sgt. Merwin J. Toomey:
“Men do not face enemy machine guns because they have been treated with kindness. They face them because they have a bayonet up their ass. I don’t want them human. I want them obedient…I’m trying to save these boys’ lives, you crawling bookwork. Stand in my way and I’ll pulverize you into chicken droppings.”
It is true that, during his 12 years of service, Toomey sustained a head injury that necessitated a metal plate be placed in his head, but his dehumanizing strategy actually aligns with a military objective. After all, soldiers must be conditioned to run towards gunfire, hear and obey commands under the tremendous stress of battle, and to do the unnatural – something that would otherwise receive the highest punishment in the land – to kill other human beings.
The frenetic development of the military mirrored the construction of Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, MS. By the mid-1930s, Biloxi’s once rich stores of seafood and timber had been depleted for almost a decade. When the Army Air Corps announced plans to build 2 new training bases, the city saw financial benefit, sought, and was ultimately chosen as a base site in early 1941. The initial proposal laid out space to house and train 5,200 troops. But by the time the first soldiers arrived June and July, the War Department anticipated sending something more like 24,000 troops. Biloxi’s population virtually doubled overnight. Needless to say, engineers had to change some plans and by July, with the barracks still under construction, housing consisted of 650 tents and temporary classrooms were set up in commandeered circus tents. In July, the rainy season in Biloxi, MS, “tent city” became “swamp city” before construction neared completion in October.
During World War II, Keesler Air Force Base became a major basic training site and site for aircraft maintenance. The influx of Army recruits brought a more diverse group to the area. The local economy boomed as a result, which also contributed to Biloxi’s increasing diversity.
Watch the video below to hear more about Director Samantha Bellomo’s thoughts about the play and the integration of soldier songs in to the production.
A Look in to the Designs
James F. Pyne, Jr, Set Designer
“A train, a barracks, a mess hall, a latrine, a swamp, a hotel room, Rowena’s room, outside the barracks, Toomey’s quarters, a USO dance, a park, and the train again. Simon’s comedy kind of spills over from the dialogue he writes into the [opening] stage directions: ‘All set pieces are representational, stylized and free-flowing. We have a lot of territory to cover here…’ [Simon is] telling us right away, don’t get caught up in the details because we’ve got to keep it moving. So what we wanted to do was create a space that was evocative of all aforementioned places, but still retained the ability to snap from one to the other. So we boiled it down […] and basically came up with a very wide open space [with] bunks and trunks and benches, leaving lots of air and lots of space open for lighting and sound and costumes to fill in the details.”
Picture of the set design model by Set Designer James F. Pyne, Jr.
Lighting Designer, Paul Hackenmueller, talks about the pace of the play, directing audiences’ focus, and interacting with the 4 dynamic elements of the set.
Marla Jurglanis, Costume Designer
“When I was researching the Civil War [for Row After Row earlier in the season] I came upon a fabulous historical document for this show […] that gave me a full list of every piece of underwear, handkerchiefs, everything that was given to inducted men. […] The uniforms changed a lot during the course of the war as they do during any other time when uniforms and equipment is trying to keep up with the different actions and different units and different parts of the world that the soldiers are in. This uniform is a Class C khaki uniform that was issued mostly in the South […] and seen in the Pacific Theater…The nice thing about the cotton khaki uniform is that it will make the transitions for us in this piece because of the rapid movement from scene to scene.”
Costume renderings by Costume Designer, Marla Jurglanis.
“[For Rowena] I was looking at an artist named David Wright who is a British pin-up artist and really well known during the Second World War.”
“And Daisy, at the end is wearing a tailored suit [of the period].”