August 6, 2003


Brighton Beach Memoirs

reviewed by
Lynn Trenning


















For more about Lynn Trenning, please visit her main page.

special to the Observer

Casting makes and breaks Davidson Community Players’ rendition of Brighton Beach Memoirs. The first of Neil Simon’s autobiographical trilogy that includes Biloxi Blues and Broadway Bound, this play features Simon’s alter ego Eugene Morris Jerome, a sweet, witty fifteen-year old on the brink of puberty.

A winner of two Tony Awards in 1983, Brighton Beach recreates a time of innocence in a young man and in a country on the precipice of World War II. In Wednesday’s dress rehearsal, Guest Director John Hartness used the stage with skill. Sandra Gray’s set has enough doors to house a farce, and the actors never forgot to use them when entering the maze of rooms in the three-tiered set.

Foremost, Brighton Beach celebrates the burdens and joys of living in a close knit Jewish family in 1937 Brooklyn. Eugene shares a thin-walled apartment with his parents Jack and Kate, 18-year old brother Stanley, his Aunt Blanche and cousins Laurie and Nora.

Family conversations and arguments seep through the walls like water through tissue. Eugene, an aspiring writer and/or baseball player, records it all through the filter of his own good humor. Simon’s dialogue resonates with veracity surrounding the jealousy, devotion and admiration that the luckiest members of families share.

Anthony Napoletano conquers duel difficulties in the role of Eugene. He is convincing as an adult playing a child, and also captures the tenuous state of a boy who still plasters pictures of baseball players on his bedroom walls, but whose greatest desire is to see a naked girl.

Complicating his state of hormonal imbalance is the presence of his well-developed cousin Nora, played by Lacy Camp, the best actress in the play. Paul Riley plays Stanley with ardent sincerity any parent would be happy to claim in a son.

Less fortunate is the casting of Mary Cooke as Kate, and Virginia Wagner as Blanche. Both have huge parts that are unforgiving of mediocrity. Kate’s deadpan delivery is funny half of the time. Blanche’s repetitious sing-song lilt becomes increasingly grating. Adding variety to their vocal cadences would make a huge difference in their performances.

But the dialogue overcomes most deficits. Kate’s penchant for buying only a quarter pound of butter at a time perfectly reveals her pessimistic, yet prudent outlook on life. "Suppose the house burned down this afternoon?" she says in her defense. When Stanley is faced with a difficult decision his father answers "Can this family afford principals right now?"

Gray’s set uses sober changes of wallpaper to delineate rooms; a rich chocolate in the dining room segues to a faded gold living room. Though the family is struggling financially, their pride is evident in the fancy lace tablecloth upon which dinner is served.

If his sentiments in this play are true, the theatrical world can be grateful that Neil Simon was a better writer than he was a baseball player. He delivers a living history of a fragile stage human development during a particular time in America.

Lynn Trenning, August 6, 2003

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