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Saturday, 08 September 2012 05:30

'Brighton Beach Memoirs': Classic Neil Simon

Written by Connie Bollinger
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The Details

repstl.org / Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
repstl.org / Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Director Steven Woolf and Casting Director Rich Cole have assembled the perfect cast, the perfect crew, and then delivered the package with the deft flourish of an accomplished magician. Ta-dah! Neil Simon!

 

The Rep’s production of Brighton Beach Memoirs is a delight from beginning to end, the perfect example of what an ensemble cast is supposed to be, a true group effort. From the two story interior set design to the beautifully authentic costumes, everything is razor sharp, not a lighting cue is missed, not an actor muffed a line (at least not as far as I could tell) and the whole thing was so perfectly paced, so exquisitely gentle in the ebb and flow of action that there was not one jarring moment in the entire two hour and twenty minutes.

 

Brighton Beach Memoirs takes us into the inner circle of the Jerome family living in Brighton Beach, New York in 1937. Fifteen year old Eugene is our guide, leading us through a week in their lives as they struggle to deal with looming war, low wages, crowded living conditions and Eugene’s galloping puberty.  

 

Eugene, played by Ryan DeLuca, is a great kid, silly and smart, confused about his own budding sexuality, and determined to record for history every slight, every outrage, every injustice he suffers from his family so that someday everyone will know how poorly he was treated. I had a similar diary as I’m sure did most of us.

 

Eugene’s biggest “enemy” is his long suffering, hard as nails mother, Kate, played by Lori Wilner. Kate pushes and prods and orchestrates nearly every detail of the lives she cares for. And if she treats them sometimes more as pieces to be moved from point a to point b, well, you try managing all those strong, ruggedly individual characters. Ms Wilner gives us a lot to love in Kate who, in less deft hands, could come off as strident and bullying. Her Kate never loses her backbone, but shows us a tenderness that is very touching.

 

Eugene’s father is played by veteran actor Adam Heller. Jack Jerome is a hard working man, responsible for not only his family but his wife’s sister and her two daughters. He pays for dancing lessons for one daughter, soaring doctor bills for the other, all the while balancing two jobs to keep food on the table and the wolf from the door. But Jack is a happy man, fulfilled and pleased with his role as bread winner. His gentle wisdom and patience is touching as he deals with crisis after crisis. Mr. Heller’s Jack Jerome is someone I’d like to know.

 

Older brother Stanley is played by Michael Curran-Dorsano. Stanley is a great big brother, helping Eugene to navigate through the straights of adolescence, laughing, boisterous, but not always wise in his pursuit of adulthood.  Curran-Dorsano is brilliant.

 

Christianne Tisdale has the role of Kate’s younger sister, Blanche, a widow ill-equipped to deal with her own grief and fear and much too eager to drift along and leave the hard decisions to her sister and brother-in-law. Ms Tisdale’s Blanche walks a fine line between sadness and hopefulness and navigates the part with perfection.

 

Blanche’s girls Nora and Laurie are beautifully brought to life by Aly Viny and St. Louis native Jamie Jacobs Powell.

 

There is nothing, honestly not one thing I can think of to criticize in this production. The Rep’s Brighton Beach Memoirs is, I think, a textbook example of perfect theatre.

 

 

 

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