|Simon At Home In 'Brighton Beach'|
|Wednesday, 18 January 2012 20:39|
For more than a half century, playwright Neil Simon has made a successful career of hitting the funnybones of audiences around the world.
One of his best plays, which combines the rapid one-liners for which he became famous via “The Odd Couple,” Come Blow Your Horn” and “Barefoot in The Park,” is on stage through Sunday in the Bristol Opera House.
The Elkhart Civic Theatre production of “Brighton Beach Memoirs” not only has the acerbic wit of the master but is genuinely touching and hits home with anyone who has ever been part of a family. The first play in a series unofficially known as the “Eugene Trilogy,” “Brighton Beach Memoirs” is semi-autobiographical and, with “Biloxi Blues” and “Broadway Bound,” charts the life of Eugene Morris Jerome from angst-filled puberty to early experiences in the wild world of comedy.
From the minute the lights go up on young Eugene imaging himself as the star pitcher for his beloved New York Yankees (and giving his Aunt Blanche a headache by his bouncing fast ball) you can believe the young boy who declares he is blamed for everything that goes wrong — even the impending war in Europe. Eugene’s cryptic asides echo the thoughts of anyone who sees himself as the family scapegoat, no matter the circumstances and, in his quest to see a naked woman, discovers that “lust and guilt are closely related.”
Eugene is in the hands of an excellent young actor, Memorial High School junior Daniel Daher, who brings the teenager to agonizingly hilarious life as he stumbles through the bewildering maze of puberty and family (with the infallible (?) guidance of his older brother Stanley, played by Brock Butler with just the right blend of elder sibling arrogance and still-young uncertainty). In the Jerome household, the titular head is father Jack (an appropriately weary Dave Dufour), a garment cutter whose supplementary job as a salesman of novelties has just disappeared, but — as in the majority of families — it is mother Kate (Melissa Domiano) who steers the ship.
Domiano’s characterization makes a solid connection, especially with mothers who struggle to keep the family together while keeping often conflicting emotions under wraps. Kate is complex and Domiano delivers the many facets of her personality in an empathetic package.
Kate’s widowed sister Blanche Norton and Blanche’s daughters Laurie and Nora are part of the extended Jerome family. As portrayed by Valerie Ong, Molly Hill and Lydia Coppedge, respectively, they create a trio of familial guests who deal in varying degrees with the gratitude and resentment their situation engenders, both in themselves and their relatives/hosts.
The highs and lows in the Jerome household in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, during a week in September 1937 are a microcosm of events that could take place in any family. In the hands of Neil Simon and the excellent ECT cast, they are hilariously moving and definitely believable.
Director John Hutchings and assistant director Carl Wiesinger develop the nuances of family relationships — sibling to sibling and parent to child — and get an admirable degree of realism from each cast member. It certainly doesn’t hurt that their “dramedy” is played out on another of artistic director John Shoup’s ultra livable sets. The attention to detail (a very important word in Shoup’s theatrical vocabulary) in every corner of the Jerome house is amazing and puts a living/dining room, two upstairs bedrooms, a porch and a bathroom on the small opera house stage with seeming ease. It’s the little things that make a difference.
“BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS” plays at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in the Bristol Opera House on Ind. 120 in Bristol. Running time: 2 ½ hours including intermission. For tickets: 848-4116 between 1 and 5:30 p.m. weekdays.
|Last Updated on Tuesday, 31 January 2012 04:09|