Directed by Cody Estle
At Raven Theatre, Chicago
Funny, yet heartfelt work captures the essence of Depression Era family life.
The first play in Neil Simon’s Eugene trilogy, Brighton Beach Memoirs precedes Biloxi Blues and Broadway Bound. It centers around and is narrated by 15 year old Eugen Jerome. It is both a wisecracking funny play as well as a honest realistic family drama about a working class Jewish family in Brighton Beach in 1937. Neil Simon’s semi-autobiographical work features his ability to use both situational humor with verbal humor to tell his stories. His characters are generally nice but flawed people struggling to survive, to find meaning and to overcome adversity. Brighton Beach Memoirs is a family story that features Eugene Jerome (Charlie Bazzell) coming of age as he shares the foibles of puberty, sexual fantasy, and the life of a boy living with a nagging mother and a too crowded house.
Simon blends humor with the tension of having two families living in the same house. Kate (JoAnn Montemurro), Eugene’s mother and her sister Blanche (Liz Fletcher) have a tense yet loving relationship that explodes after years while Nora (Sophia Menendian) and Blanche have a conflicting mother-daughter relationship.
Eugene and his older brother Stanley (Sam Hubbard) has a funny love-hate but mostly love relationship. All the house’s children have immense respect for the hard working man of the house, Jack (Ron Quade) Eugene’s father and Kate’s husband. Jack is the wise and understanding patriarch. This heartwarming play is so honest, so natural, and so well acted that it plays directly into our souls. Neil Simon’s ability to use mundane everyday conflict to express moral truths and expand upon character fuels his humor as his dialogue usually contains sharp zingers and telling exaggerations.
We easily like Simon’s characters, flaws in all. In director Cody Estle’s production, the underlying tone is lover and ultimate acceptance even after explosive conflicts. This cast is an ensemble triumph. Led by the terrific spot-on talents of teen actor, Charlie Bazzell ,who give Eugene enough spark to light up the neighborhood, Brighton Beach Memoirs also features terrific work from JoAnn Montemurro, Ron Quade and Sam Hubbard.
The layers of story becomes much more that a family comedy as Simon weaves honest family conflict into the humorous foibles of as teenage boy. Get to see this Brighton Beach Memoirs to rediscover the genius of Neil Simon. You’ll see that he was much more than simply a funny playwright.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: May 11, 2013
For more info checkout the Brighton Beach Memoirs page at theatreinchicago.com
At Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark Street, Chicago, IL, call 773-338-2177, www.raventheatre.com, tickets $36, 31 dor seniors, $15 students, military and teachers, Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 20 minutes with intersession, through July 14, 2013