This Neil Simon classic takes place in 1937, and oh what a year — the depression in full swing, Germany rising in Europe; meanwhile the lead character, Eugene Jerome, played by Drew Sharp, worries about typical puberty issues — girls and playing baseball.
This is a coming of age memoir narrated by Eugene throughout, where he seamlessly steps in and out of the spotlight in a way that lets the audience in on Jerome family secrets. Drew does a very believable Eugene with great expressions and moxie, he had the exuberance and angst of a pubescent 15 year old. The set is the main living space of the small home in Brighton Beach, New York, and the set designer, Roy Steinman, did an artisan’s job of designing the period furniture and knick-knacks throughout. The well-built scenery, designed by Moe Conn and Jay deMarco, included stairs and intricate wood trimming as if their house interior was part of the theater.
The storyline is fluid, funny and unpredictable as they wind their way through daily activities interspersed with real life worries like the impending war coming to America, and how it is affecting them and their family overseas as Polish-Jewish immigrants. The story moves slowly at first to introduce each family character who incidentally all do a phenomenal job with the Brooklyn accent offering shades of the film, ‘Moonstruck” with the witty bantering back and forth and the family chaos. Andy Belt as Stanley really owned his part well, offering advise as an older brother, yet still unsure and a kid himself. Then it quickly picks up steam as one thing after another builds up to create a muddled mess that may leave the family in shambles. All of the actors do a banner job of emoting through the scenes allowing us to connect and care for each of the family members.
Amy Jo Shapiro as Kate was a complex character even though Eugene saw his cousin as one dimensional. Her scenes with her mother were deep, and both heart wrenching and touching. Kyla Tacopina as Laurie, the nerd know it all, played her character well as an introverted smart girl and was still able to stand out of the crowd.
The story line is fluid, funny and unpredictable…
The Director, Steve Goldklang, through a creative use of lighting, dims the background and brings the actors to the side or front in the spotlight to highlight a narrative. The acoustics were off the charts as none of the actors wore a microphone, yet you could hear all of them clearly from the back of the room. Besides the late 30s music played on the intro and outro of the play there were no extra sound effects, except the radio play; but I swear that I could hear the crack of the bat when Eugene spoke about baseball and the waves of the ocean when they went out to walk on the beach. It was very easy to immerse myself into the story and indulge in the narrative — one dealing with very real family issues while the other overarching national ones.
The father, Jack played by Tom Piccin was a stalwart figure and was the glue that kept the family together. In the end, the problems both personal and national are accepted and the family is wiser and drawn closer for having suffered through them. I believe that the audience members left a little wiser, possibly thinking about their families and may have given a call to a long-lost relative in retrospection and forgiveness. I will close out this review with an apropos famous quote from an equally famous NY Yankee, Yogi Berra, “Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good, too.” And from Eugene, “…Onward and upwards!”.
Running Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.
“Brighton Beach Memoirs” plays through Sunday, February 9, with a special $10 Thursdays On Broadway performance on February 6 at 8:00 p.m. For tickets and show info click here, special group rates available too. Located at 806 S. Broadway, Vagabond Theater is easily accessible to patrons.