The brilliant style that Neil Simon has in his writing is that every single character in the play goes through a monumental change by the end of it. And for Eugene, that change is growing from a boy to a man – a change in all teenagers that is metaphorically represented by puberty.
But how do I make this character more then just about a horny pubescent boy? Before we get into the good stuff, let’s make it clear that there is more going on in this boy’s life than just growing hair and searching for boobies…. Well, not much more. This is a boy that gets faced with crucial decisions through one of the most confusing times of anyone’s life. In a span of 107 pages, Eugene is faced with: a craving to be a New York Yankee, a passion for writing, a crush over his own first cousin (first being very important because if it was his third, it’d be okay), going to the store 15 times a day, the threat of being the only man left in the house - because of his brother’s leaving, his Pop’s health, and his Aunt Blanche and cousins finally leaving the house - and of course, the biggest obstacle in his way is his confusion and/or lack of direction of his raging hormones. It’s no wonder he’s reading biological novels, it’s the only source of information he can try and get besides his brother. Now lay the threat of having no money and the upcoming of the Second World War, and you have one very confused kid trying to discover what the lower half of the female body even looks like!
The search for the Golden Palace of the Himalayas begins…
I know from my own experiences that you don’t just snap into being a horny little kid… it takes time and experience. When I was first starting to notice girls… I wasn’t craving to just find nipples and beavers… Honestly, at first, I was a little scared of seeing those images. I often would get made fun of by my brothers growing up because if I saw a little “too much” of a woman I would get a little freaked out.
Obviously, things would change. As time went on, I would be exposed to a little more skin and imagery because of the media, something Eugene doesn’t really have the advantage of. But in Eugene’s favor is the expansion of his imagination because it is really all he has. So as an actor, it’s been a really creative process to see how these opposing experiences could create what I believe Eugene is going through in regards to what stage he is in this play. My own experiences gave me a slow rise to discovering the whole female body, while Eugene’s experiences from the play show he is craving for the whole package right away. So in Eugene’s life right now, I am playing it that he has gone through the beginning stages of puberty. He’s seen some risqué pictures in his life… but nothing compared to what he would die for. You don’t get too far with cartoon images of Betty Boop, as hot as she may be. Eugene is past the point of fear of the unknown. He is ready to face the unknown head on.
So because Eugene wants everything he can get right now at this time, but doesn’t have the resources, it makes complete sense for Eugene to be fascinated by his cousin’s perfect breasts. They’re big, defined, and laid on a perfectly shaped body. And since they are living together… why not take advantage of that access? When you’re going through puberty, you take whatever images you can get.
It may seem silly, but Eugene’s main goal in this play is to find the Golden Palace of the Himalayas. While all the other members of the family are fighting for something a little more serious in the real world, it doesn’t mean that puberty isn’t just as serious. Eugene’s character is blessed to have such a hopeful and optimistic attitude… he is the only one that keeps the family going. He annoys the crap out of everyone, but the family still loves him because he always has a smile on. As we as a cast and ensemble have learned, the smile on everyone’s face is what gets through the hard times.
So call Eugene a pervert, call him a brat, call him a pest... call him ridiculous for craving girls. But know that through all of that is a warm-hearted soon to be man who will some day play for the major leagues. He doesn’t need to worry about being a writer because he already is one when you sit down in your seat. And he couldn’t be more excited to tell his story!
- Kevin Hoffman, Junior BFA Acting Student