“Biloxi Blues,” Neil Simon’s semi-biographical play about a group of recruits enduring Army boot camp in Biloxi, Miss., during World War II, premieres Friday, March 14, at Workshop Theater. For director David Britt, who is also a senior instructor at USC’s department of theater and dance, the play, which was written in the 1980s about the 1940s, still offers relevant insight.
“I had an Uncle named Horace, who was a World War II veteran,” explains Britt. “I only knew him as an older man, after he’d gained his wisdom and experience. Doing this play, and researching the period, made me realize that when he was young, Uncle Horace was probably a lot like these guys – scared and uncertain. It has left me feeling more compassionate to what he and other veterans went through.”
Britt also was moved by Arnold Epstein, who fought the rules and regulations that the company’s drill sergeant imposed on the recruits. “I realized that in many ways, drill sergeants can be like coaches,” he notes. “Whether they’re shaping you into the best athlete or soldier you can be, they’re both offering strategies for improvement, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time.”
Britt particularly enjoyed directing his cast of young actors, three of whom had no previous theater experience before being cast in “Biloxi Blues.” “Most of my USC students have worked in theater for years, but it’s all new for these three,” he said. “They tell us over and over that they never realized how hard acting is. It’s been gratifying to see the whole group come together – sort of like the platoon in the play.”
Biloxi Blues runs through March 29 at Workshop Theater, 1136 Bull St., Columbia. For more information, visit workshoptheater.com; to order tickets call (803) 799-6551.
Katie McElveen, Special to The State