Joy, Pain Make `Conversations with My Father' a Strong Brew

Article excerpt

The American Dream gets pretty tattered and torn from time to time, and those who desperately want to make it work, but fail, take a heavy emotional and psychological beating.

That's what happened to Eddie Goldberg, who came to this country from Russia after seeing members of his family murdered in a pogrom. Eddie was going to make it as a businessman, a patriot, a man who exemplified the "my country right or wrong" proverb, a man determined to assimilate by putting his Americanism far ahead of everything else in his life.

"Conversations With My Father," which opened a four-week run at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis on Friday, tells Eddie's story, highlighting his mercurial nature in his relationship with his sons, and with the customers at his Canal Street bar, an establishment that changes names and decor with the fads, but always too late to be sufficiently successful.

Herb Gardner's play, a drama mixed with comedy, won a Tony Award last spring and is a strong, tough piece of work. It brings moments of joy, but also winces of pain, as Gardner holds a mirror to his own life - and to ours. It's powerful stuff, well-acted and directed, and it's a riveting, rewarding evening.

Eddie, who changes his name to Ross as a method of assimilation and as a tribute to the Jewish boxing champion Barney Ross, has two sons, and the play is narrated by the younger, Charlie (Steve Itkin). It begins in 1976, as Charlie and his son, Josh (Chad Kraus), are taking the final mementoes from the bar before selling it. As Charlie reflects on the place and his life, we slip back to 1936 and Eddie (Joseph Costa) arrives. Charlie becomes invisible to the other characters and serves as narrator. He's the unfavorite son, a scrawny kid too often lost in dreams and fantasies.

Eddie's older brother, Joey (Brad Mariam as a boy, Robert D'Haene as a teen-ager) is the apple of his father's eye. …