Not To Be Missed! Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs” on Stage - Second Street Players
The final run of Second Street Players’ production of Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs takes place this coming weekend (Friday through Sunday and May 17-19 at) at the recently renovated Riverfront Theater located at 2 S. Walnut St. in downtown Milford.
I had the opportunity to catch the opening night of this fantastic production at the theatre and I highly recommend that if you’re looking for a quality theatrical production that you put this on your “must do” list for this coming weekend. You won’t be disappointed.
Let’s begin with the recent renovations. The opening night of the show coincided with the first public reveal of changes which took six months of hard work to complete. Upon entrance into the theatre, patrons will find a more spacious, expanded lobby with a contemporary crisp and clean look and feel. Larger bathrooms were also part of the renovation plus the removal of 58 seats from the theatre (to compensate for the lobby expansion) have not only improved the acoustics, but it also creates a better sense of interior flow. As they say, sometimes less really is more.
As a onetime professional set designer and stage manager myself, I’m always keen to notice the technical aspect of a production while waiting for the show to begin. I’ve always been impressed by the set design in Second Street Players’ productions that I’ve attended, and this show is no exception.
Brighton Beach Memoirs takes place in 1937 in a crowded, lower middle-class Brooklyn walk-up. A tremendous amount of skill and work went into the set design of this production which offers both interior and exterior scenes including baseball pitching practice against an outside wall, one on one conversations in bedrooms, a living room, and a family dining room – all on one stage. The unique lighting and staging of these intimate scenes – along with the detailing of the depression era focused art direction – create a truly believable experience from the audience.
During an on-air interview with the show’s director, Mark Dissinger, on Coastal A&E on Delaware 105.9 FM, he told me that great attention was paid to those elements of the production. Every prop, every costume was something that had to have been in use during 1937 or before. It’s was that level of detail that added to the robustness of the production.
Which leads me to the main element of this show that really delivered – the acting. Described as a bittersweet memoir that evocatively captures the life of a struggling Jewish household served up Simon-style, the show is part one of Neil Simon's autobiographical trilogy: a portrait of the writer as a young teen in 1937 living with his family in a crowded, lower middle-class Brooklyn walk-up.
The character of Eugene Jerome (wonderfully played by Brodie Sapp) standing in for the author, is the narrator and central figure. He has teenage dreams of baseball and girls while coping with the mundane existence of his family life in Brooklyn: a formidable mother, an overworked father, and his worldly older brother Stanley.
Thrown into the mix is his widowed (and emotionally fragile) Aunt Blanche, and her two young (but rapidly aging) daughters who each have dreams of their own that reach beyond the often confining walls of their current home.
Each of the seven cast members perfectly portray their roles with great believability and a perfect mix of humor and pathos. Brodie Sapp is perfectly cast as Eugene. It’s an immense role with the added actor’s burden of stepping in-between his performance as the youngest brother and son, and as the show’s narrator – speaking directly to the audience. The character Eugene is also the catalyst for much of the humor of the production and his delivery of some of the show’s funniest lines are spot on.
This is especially evident between the hilarious conversations between he and his older brother Stanley (in an exceptional performance by Colby Crawford). Stanley is more “experienced” than wise, but that doesn’t prevent him from mentoring his younger brother on a variety of topics ranging from sex to money to swagger.
Sydney Gross is illuminating on stage as Nora, the excitable ingénue who has been offered the chance to fulfill her dreams of becoming a future Broadway star. The older family members (her mother Blanche portrayed by Carol Torrey, Aunt Kate portrayed by Dana Willens, and her uncle Jack portrayed by Tony Pierantozzi) are less enthusiastic and more level headed about her opportunity while her bookwormish and wise beyond her years sister Laurie (perfectly portrayed by Alexia Nadel), calmly and coolly takes everything in while still managing to find ways out of the family chores. Nora’s dilemma is just one of several story lines of this production that weave seamlessly throughout the script creating an engaging story arc.
While the younger members of the cast are truly exceptional, the adult members of this cast also bring a wonderful element of “life knowledge” to enrich their characters through subtle body movements, expression and tone that can only come from the many experiences that life puts in front of us as we grow older. It creates a wonderful and believable balance of youthful zeal verses pragmatism on stage. As my own mother used to tell me when I was a teenager trying to convince her to agree to some crazy idea I had, “I wasn’t just born yesterday you know…”
Director Mark Dissinger has done an amazing job with this production especially when you realize that most of the rehearsals for this show were held off-site as the theatre renovations were completed. In fact, stage manager Len Willens informed me that they had only been working on stage with the set just a couple of weeks prior to opening night.
As is usual with most of Neil Simon’s work, humor is mixed with some truly tender moments and there are some very powerful exchanges between the characters - especially in the second act - that will not only touch home for most in the audience, it will equally touch the heart. - Michael Sprouse
Brighton Beach Memoirs will run Friday through Sunday and May 17-19 at Riverfront Theater located at 2 S. Walnut St. in downtown Milford.
Friday and Saturday shows begin at 7 p.m.; Sunday shows begin at 2 p.m. Tickets are $17 each with a $1 discount offered to seniors and students for Sunday matinees.
Tickets can be purchased in advance at www.secondstreetplayers.com or by calling 800-838-3006.
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Since 2014, television and radio personality Michael Sprouse has served as the On-Air Host and Executive Producer of both Coastal Cuisine and The Arts & Entertainment Report over a wide range of multi-media outlets. His always entertaining and informative episodes focus on all aspects of the arts, cuisine, and leisure from across DelMarVa and beyond!
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