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Back to the '40s With Neil Simon


Back in the 1940s, the U.S. Army plucked many young men with big dreams from their hometowns and sent them to faraway boot camps in places such as Biloxi, Miss.

One of the young men, a 19-year-old from New York, went on to write some of the best-loved comic plays in the American theater, including one about that boot camp experience.

It's a work called "Biloxi Blues," the playwright is Neil Simon and a production of it opens Friday at Citrus College in Glendora.

"These guys come from all kinds of backgrounds and they're all scared stiff. Their response is to laugh," director Jerry Carlson said of the play's characters.

"Biloxi Blues" is the second in an autobiographical trilogy spanning the life of Simon (or Eugene Jerome, as he is known in the plays) from his teen-age years (in "Brighton Beach Memoirs") to his early years as a comedy writer ("Broadway Bound").

While Carlson's view of the play is realistic, "I approach it as a fictional thing," he said.

"The autobiographical part of the show does not really enter it, because it's irrelevant to the story of the script. We (Carlson and Simon) both have the same story, but it's a wonderful story to tell."

Carlson is going to some lengths to tell that story with as much historical accuracy as possible.

"We've taken great pains to get the appropriate 1940s costumes" and props, the 59-year old director said. "Going back to the '40s these days is really difficult, because all that stuff became collector's items, and my mother threw it all away."

The play, part of the college's summer dinner theater series, starts with a barbecue at 6:30 p.m. The curtain rises at 8 p.m. in the Haugh Performing Arts Center on the campus at 1000 W. Foothill Blvd. There will also be performances on Saturday and Sunday evening and on July 15, 16, 17 and 18.

Tickets for the play, including dinner, are $22; $20 for students and senior citizens. Admission for the play only is $10; $8 for students and senior citizens.

Reservations: (818) 963-9411.

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