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Saturday, 31 October 2009 23:53

Broadway Review: "Brighton Beach Memoirs" Gone Too Soon

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Noah Robbins in Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs
Noah Robbins in Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs
Photo: Joan Marcus

The good news is, the new production of Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs is fantastic.  The bad news is it’s closing today.  It is such a disappointment that something so beautifully done will not have a decent run despite generally respectable reviews.  Small wonder it’s harder and harder to get investors to produce a show when something this worthy doesn’t run. 

Brighton Beach Memoirs is Neil Simon’s semi-autobiographical story about the Jerome family.  It originally opened on Broadway in March of 1983 and ran for more than three years.  I had just arrived in New York to pursue a career as an actor and actually auditioned for the original production.

Set in Brighton Beach, NY in Depression-era 1930’s, the Jerome’s consist of brothers Eugene, 15 and Stanley, 18 and father and mother, Jack and Kate.  Kate’s sister Blanche and her two daughters, Laurie and Nora also live in the small house after Blanche’s husband unexpectedly dies.

The production is directed by David Cromer (off-Broadway’s Our Town)  with a seamless flow that handles both the comedy and the drama in a way that never makes one or the other feel out of place.  The comedy in this production snaps, crackles and pops as the one-liners fly by.

Eugene is the “Neil Simon” role, the funny one, the studious one who wants to be a writer.  His older brother Stanley just can’t seem to keep himself out of trouble.  Eugene is played in a broad comedic style by talented newcomer Noah Robbins.  This 19-year old actor was accepted to Columbia just days before finding out he got this role; lucky for him he now has a backup. 

Stanley is played by Santino Fontana (Billy Elliot, Sunday in the Park with George) in one of the best performances of the production.  The scenes in the upstairs bedroom between the two boys are so full of charm, laughter, tenderness and brotherly-manipulation; these two actors are having so much fun it’s a joy to watch.

Laurie Metcalf in Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs

Laurie Metcalf in Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs
Photo: Joan Marcus

Kate Jerome is played to perfection by  Laurie Metcalf (November, “Roseanne”).  She has turned worrying and guilt into an art-form.  Jack Jerome is a weary cutter at a raincoat factory by day and sells party favors to clubs by night to keep his extended family afloat.  He’s played by Dennis Boutsikaris in a heartfelt performance as the lovable and compassionate Jack upon whom the entire family’s troubles ultimately fall.   

The actresses playing Blanche’s daughters, Laurie and Nora (Gracie Bea Lawrence and Alexandra Socha, respectively) do an admirable job although the roles are not much to write home about.  Jessica Hecht as Blanche is timid and apologizing and yet full of resentment that ultimately finds its way to the surface.

You can’t seem to go one or two lines in Brighton Beach Memoirs before someone has something funny to say.  Your emotions move between feeling verklempt one moment to hilarity the next.  This is usually thanks to a wisecrack to the audience from Eugene.  There are moments that are deeply moving, like the reconciliation between the two sisters after a fight.  The moment is so honest and simple that it tugs at your heart strings.

This production was to be joined by Simon’s Broadway Bound and the two were to be performed in repertory.  Those plans, however have now been scrapped.  Despite its closing, this production of Mr. Simon’s drama/comedy has proven that Brighton Beach Memoirs has earned itself a place in the annals of great American plays.  I’m so saddened by the premature closing of something so special.

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Read the production credits at the Internet Broadway Database

Review Roundup:

Linda Winer for New York Newsday – “With his beautifully cast and calibrated production, Cromer keeps the pace and rhythm of Simon's humor while recognizing shadows more often seen in American tragedies by Arthur Miller. Narrator Eugene - played with astonishing maturity and affection by gifted newcomer Noah Robbins - doesn't miss the inbuilt jokes about the horrors of broiled liver and puberty, and diseases too scary to be spoken aloud. But we never are allowed to forget that the laughs are attached to a price.”

Peter Marks for The Washington Post – “Let's hear it for the boys! To get a most endearing glimpse into the fumbling rites of passage for guys on the verge of manhood, look to the terrific interactions of Noah Robbins and Santino Fontana in Broadway's handsomely crafted new revival of Brighton Beach Memoirs."

Chris Jones for The Chicago Tribune – “Cromer unlocks a big-hearted and aptly autumnal drama about the agonies of parenting, the rewards of loving your brother, the hopes and desires of youth, the confounding difficulty of keeping food on your extended family’s table in 1937, with the world on the cusp of war.”

Elisabeth Vincentelli for The New York Post – “If this revival works at all -- and mostly it does -- it's largely thanks to director David Cromer and his cast. In last year's "Our Town," Cromer stripped away decades of saccharine to reveal an Americana imbued with both joy and melancholy dignity.”

Last modified on Thursday, 10 December 2009 21:35