Brighton Beach Memoir

The varied season at the Brown County Playhouse continues. Between the close harmony of June’s "Forever Plaid" and the upcoming August offering of "The Importance of Being Earnest," July features Neil Simon’s "Brighton Beach Memoirs" in a production directed by Dale McFadden.

Playwright Neil Simon has successfully mined his own life for a series of plays. They began with "Brighton Beach Memoir" a reflection of some of Simon’s own experiences as a teenager in an overcrowded cottage in Brooklyn.

Simon’s alter ego is the fifteen-year-old Eugene played by David Sheehan. Eugene is the main character and the audience’s guide into the family. Sheehan is a whirlwind of energy, distinctly teen-aged angst and occasional wistfulness. He’s torn between hormones and homeruns, fantasies involving knuckle balls and naked breasts vie for his attention.

Eugene isn’t the only one in the house at Brighton Beach with conflicts. They are all over the place. Eugene’s father Jack, Bill Simons, is struggling to handle two jobs, his position as a husband, father and uncle and his own health. Eugene’s older brother Stanley, Robert Spaulding, is in his first full time job having trouble with authority, principles, ego and some card sharks. On opening night the open-faced honesty of Robert Spaulding in the role was especially impressive. Eugene’s long-suffering mother Kate, Mary Carol Johnson is very much at the center of things as she worries over family finances, her husband and her sons.

There’s additional strain as Kate’s widowed younger sister Blanche, Renee Racan, and her daughters are also crammed into the small house. Blanche, while trying to walk a tight rope as the second woman in the kitchen, has family troubles of her own. Sixteen year old daughter Nora, Brandy Burkholder, is a star-struck dance student who wants to be out and on Broadway. Younger daughter Laurie, Jennifer Whitney, is a much pampered child spoiled because of a "heart flutter."

But even, if these troubles and difficulties seem to be overwhelming, the specter of the looming threat in Europe as Hitler’s armies move into Poland where Jack, Kate and Blanche all have close relatives puts the family troubles into perspective and shows their essential resilience and spirit.

Simon’s play is more a family drama than a straight comedy though there are many laughs from the irrepressibly hormonally hopeful Eugene and it’s a show that offers each actor more than one opportunity to shine.

Neil Simon’s "Brighton Beach Memoir" at the Brown County Playhouse will be performed Wednesdays thru Saturdays at eight and Sundays at three thru July.

George Walker

After completing an M.A.T. degree in English at Indiana University, George Walker began announcing for WFIU in 1967. Along with regularly hosting classical music shows, he interviews artists and reviews plays and operas.

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