BILOXI BLUES, New World Repertory Theater, at the Mason's Building. The second installment of Neil Simon's autobiographical trilogy covers his time in the army during World War II. Private Eugene Jerome, Simon's alter ego, and five other young men in his platoon negotiate boot camp politics and challenging food under a sadistic sergeant who motivates men with push-up marathons and mind games.
Director Jean Gottlieb seems content to let Simon's writing carry much of the weight in this safe, pleasant production. Brennan Buhl's Eugene is unfailingly likable--in fact he exhibits the same easy charm with a new platoon leader, a prostitute about to take his virginity, and his first true love. No one's that unflappable. Len Bajenski as Sergeant Toomey dispenses army justice with true gusto yet falls short during a pivotal scene meant to expose the character's vulnerability. Comedic potential goes untapped as well, most notably in the character of a soldier (Todd Jackson) who thinks he sings like Perry Como. Alex Balestrieri delivers the most resonant performance as a defiant, persecuted, sexually ambiguous soldier oozing pain and acidic wit, though Alex Krochman also deserves mention as the platoon's model enlisted man. As is, it's an enjoyable evening. With deeper soul-searching, it might tickle funny bones and stir some hearts.