Saturday, October 17, 2009

Brighton Beach Memoirs

"Brighton Beach Memoirs" at the Nederlander Theatre, October 16, 2009

(photo by Joan Marcus)

The first of Neil Simon's semi-autobiographical series of plays is about to open in an excellent revival directed by the very talented David Cromer and will run in repertory with the third in the series, Broadway Bound, which begins previews on November 18, 2009.

Mr. Cromer has assembled a terrific cast of Rialto veterans and newcomers to create the extended Jerome family living in Brooklyn. 15 year old Eugene (Noah Robbins) is our narrator and hero, sharing his "unbelievable, fantastic and completely privately thoughts" of the late depression era of his youth. His widowed aunt Blanche (Jessica Hecht) has moved in following the untimely death of her husband along with her daughters Nora (Alexandra Socha) and Laurie (Gracie Bea Lawrence). His older brother Stanley (Santino Fontana) is making some usual stumbles on his way to manhood, while his father Jack (Dennis Boutsikaris) has just lost his extra sales work and is worried about making ends meet to support all seven. All through this his mother Kate (Laurie Metcalf) rules the roost with a mother's most nefarious weapons - guilt and a knowing, withering look.

Mr. Robbins (fresh from the role of Max Bialystock in his high school performance of The Producers) handles this pivotal role with aplomb, smoothly transitioning from expository asides to complete immersion in the scenes. Mr. Fontana's Stanley, handsome and awkward, fulfills the role of Eugene's idol nicely, balancing the torture and tenderness of their relationship evenly. Mr. Boutsikaris' Jack is particularly understated, giving us a real glimpse of the weight of supporting his household.

Ms. Hecht provides a focused and subtly nuanced performance as Blanche, befuddled and lost as a single parent in a time when women were still particularly unempowered. She plays beautifully off of Ms. Metcalf's Kate. Through the rants and guilt trips, Ms. Metcalf provides the backbone of the family and the play. Her timing is impeccable, giving us the mother of all Jewish mothers. It should prove to be one of the high points of the season.

John Lee Beatty's detailed set fills the entire stage, yet still feels a bit cramped with all the elements lined up across the proscenium.

Mr. Cromer's eagle-eyed focus pulls the text to the forefront, confirming this as one of Mr. Simon's strongest plays. The staging and timing are elegantly simple, pulling each of us into the Jerome living room.

Now I can't wait to see Broadway Bound.

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