Saw this Neil Simon classic over the weekend at Evergreen Players @ Center/Stage, and what a great show. A triple-Tony Award winner who has also written over fifty produced screenplays, Neil Simon is iconic, and known for his autobiographical work, including the play and screenplay for Chapter Two, and the trilogy of his youth, which consists of Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues, and Broadway Bound. This play was also adapted into a screenplay, and the 1986 film starred Jonathan Silverman.
The Evergreen, Colorado production of Brighton Beach Memoirs
It’s playing now through November 6, and is definitely worth the trip from Denver, Boulder, Wyoming, or wherever. The cast deftly captures the tensions of Pre-War II Jewish ghetto life in an angst-filled, tangled web of siblings and cousins, kids and parents. The play smoothly imprints upon us the importance of enduring family, no matter what. Tony Cantanese has laid an artful hand on the play as its director. The scenes flow beautifully from moment to moment and level to level, in a presentation that is as physically layered as it is emotionally complex. The casting of Ken Paul as the father Jack is dead on, as he carries a heaviness like lead in his chest that emanates the worries of the world. This is not far from the truth, since beyond his immediate concerns of feeding the seven mouths under his own roof, he anxiously awaits the outbreak of WWII, knowing that dozens more relatives might arrive from Europe any day, fleeing Hitler.
Brighton Beach Memoirs is About Family
The meaning of tight-knit family is redefined in the course of the play, which takes place over two evenings around dinnertime and transforms a disparate collection of souls searching for fulfillment: two teenage brothers and their two female cousins of similar age, the boys’ father, mother and her sister, a widow. Cramped into a dining room too small for them all, they are inescapably wrought into a band of true kin, and recommit to standing by one another through whatever adversity may come.
The Cast of Brighton Beach Memoirs at Evergreen Players@Center/Stage
All of this hilarious and heartbreaking drama is tied together by the blazingly brilliant performance of Jackson Garske as the pre-pubescent, constantly fantasizing, Yankees rooting, downright horny 14-year-old Eugene, whose worship of his 18-year old brother Stanley is tested but not damaged by vice, desertion, and deceit. Michelle Wright, as the boys’ mother, is a fiery, beautifully illogical, sadly tough and poignantly funny martyr. While Garkse keeps us giggling with his endearing asides to the audience (writing his memoirs and letting us in on it), Wright delivers the resonance and depth to the action with her seriously neurotic but unwavering devotion to every member of her family, like it or not. Rounding out the cast with admirable performances all are Joe LaFollette as Stanley, Pele Capparo as Blanche, Jacqueline Archdeacon as Nora, and Arianna Sutton as Laurie.
The set design by Peggy Morgan Stenmark offers seamless placement and details, drawing us in to first the period and the place, then the mindsets of these people and their world. This is a production that resonates with its theme, “The world doesn’t survive without families,” and I think Neil Simon, who actually lived in Denver from 1945 to 1946, would be proud.