Author: Neil Simon
First published: 1986
Locale: Biloxi, Mississippi
Eugene Morris Jerome, an Army recruit from Brooklyn, New York. Eugene is a young Jewish man who aspires to be a writer. He fervently records his deepest thoughts and impressions in his journal, often leaving himself more an observer than a participant in human interactions. He does have principles—respect, compassion, and open-mindedness—but he is hesitant to act on them. He always sees the lighter side of life, and he enlists his quick and acerbic wit to ease him through difficult situations. Having lived a sheltered life, Eugene is eager and determined to lose his virginity and fall in love. At least at the beginning of the play, he does not quite know the difference.
Arnold Epstein, an Army recruit from Queens, New York. Epstein is a stubborn Jewish intellectual who has very strong principles and absolutely refuses to compromise them. He has a nervous stomach and resents being in basic training, and he cannot understand why rigorous discipline and blind obedience are considered superior to respect and compassion in the shaping of soldiers. He immediately identifies Toomey as his enemy and squares off for a fierce battle. To Epstein, life is serious business, a continuous moral quandary. He is clever and sardonic, but rarely light-spirited. When humiliated, and even when beaten on his own terms, he accepts defeat stoically.
Joseph Wykowski, a recruit of Polish background from Bridgeport, Connecticut, with a stomach of steel and an irrepressible sex drive. Wykowski accepts the rigors of Army discipline without question: To him it is a game that, like any game, he can win. He is decidedly nonintellectual and occasionally anti-Semitic, and he has no patience for moral rumi-nations. He is the self-proclaimed leader of the platoon. His simple strength and basic clear vision validate his arrogance.
Roy Selridge, a recruit from Schenectady, New York. Selridge is a young man with an engaging, though often over-bearing, sense of humor. He falls in behind Wykowski as a coarse masculine voice in the group but ultimately lacks the courage to speak out or stand alone. Though his bravado is often hollow, his spirit is always generous and optimistic.
Donald Carney, a recruit from Montclair, New Jersey. Carney loves to sing—he sings in his sleep—and dreams of becoming a recording star. He is basically honest and good-natured but thoughtful to a fault: He has a hard time making decisions. He is faithful to his fiancée in Albany but views the prospect of marriage with serious trepidation.
James Hennesey, another recruit. He is a timid young man, relatively innocent and humorless. He misses his family but seems to be adapting well enough to Army life until he is discovered in a homosexual liaison with another soldier.
Merwyn J. Toomey, the sergeant overseeing the platoon's basic training. Toomey is a hard-boiled Southern military man who knows how to deal with trickery and back talk. He pits the recruits against one another to subjugate them to Army discipline. He accepts the special challenge that Epstein directs at him and determines to win the battle of wills. He has a steel plate in his head, a souvenir from the North African campaign, that accounts for his wholehearted commitment to the rigorous treatment of his soldiers, his sublimated sense of sadness and doom, and, ultimately, his premature retirement from active duty.
Rowena, a Biloxi prostitute. Rowena is direct and realistic: She is a happily married woman whose business is satisfying the sexual needs of young soldiers and peddling perfume and lingerie for them to send home to their girlfriends.
Daisy Hannigan, a local Catholic schoolgirl. Daisy is friendly, pretty, innocent, and dutiful. the daughter of a journalist from Chicago, she likes books and is enchanted with Eugene's literary aspirations.