Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre brings a tenacious Jewish-American family to the stage with its production of Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs, on now until July 14 at the McPherson Playhouse.
The solid ensemble cast, led by 27-year-old Amitai Marmorstein in Simon’s semi-autobiographical character Eugene Morris Jerome, is enduring and endearing in this tale about the challenges facing a typical Brooklyn-based family in 1937.
Times are tough, money is tight, and everyone is making sacrifices to make the family stronger, although some of the children, including Eugene, have a pretty fierce selfish-streak inside them.
Marmorstein’s character is a rambunctious, baseball loving, pubescent 15-year-old — the youngest of two sons to Kate (Jane Spidell) and Jack (Brian Linds). Kate’s sister Blanche (Samantha Currie) moved into the family home with her two daughters Nora (Kate Richard) and Laurie (Elizabeth Duncan) after her husband died. The addition of three mouths to feed is enough stress to give poor Jack a heart attack — especially since his two sons are constantly complicating life by getting into trouble.
Everything comes to a head when the family sits down for a meal. Director Janet Wright did a great job of setting the scene for an extremely tense family dinner, with the cast tiptoeing their way to the table in under the shroud of darkness with a soundtrack of strings building the tension.
In spite of the difficulties facing the family and of the time it’s set in, Brighton Beach Memoirs is full of comedy, making for a show that’s not only full of drama but also laugh-out-loud moments.
It’s interesting to see how assumptions by each member of this extended family make tensions rise, only to realize in the end that they don’t fully understand life from each other’s perspectives.
Wright allows the actors to build their characters while reigning them back in to create a realistic view of family life pre-Second World War.
Jane Spidell’s Kate is rough around the edges. She’s one tough mother, especially to Eugene, a concerned older sister to Blanche and a strong authority figure to Laurie and Nora. But Spidell gives Kate a vulnerability that makes her tough exterior forgivable. For all the yelling and keeping in line, Spidell’s Kate is a loving, but stressed out, doting mother.
Sebastien Archibald gives a great performance as Eugene’s older brother Stanley, who at 18 years old, is caught between the rebellion of youth and the responsibility of supporting the family.
Brian Linds gives Jack a sense of level-headedness, making him a strong authoritarian in the household, while Samantha Currie gives Blanche a sense of helplessness that demands both sympathy and distain.
This is really such a strong ensemble that no one actor stands above the rest, although Marmorstein’s energy as Eugene and a narrator helps carry the audience through the story.
This play is rife with the prejudice expected from the time period, but it’s not overblown. It’s dramatic and delightful and full of taboo topics like the mysteries of puberty, incestuous thoughts and masturbation.
The incredible two-story set designed by Carole Klemm brings the audience right into the family home on Brighton Beach, complete with the creaky screen door that reminds me so much of summer. This production is a breath of fresh air. M