Under the Direction of
James M. Nederlander and James L. Nederlander
The Neil Simon Plays
Brighton Beach Memoirs
(Neil Simon Bio)
208 West 41st Street
New York, NY
Directed by David Cromer
Laurie Metcalf, Dennis Boutsikaris
Santino Fontana, Jessica Hecht
Josh Grisetti, Gracie Bea Lawrence, Allan Miller
Noah Robbins, Alexandra Socha
Scenic Design: John Lee Beatty
Costume Design: Jane Greenwood
Lighting Design: Brian MacDevitt
Sound Design: Fitz Patton & Josh Schmidt
Hair & Wig Design: Tom Watson
Technical Supervision: Hudson Theatrical Associates
Casting: Jay Binder/Jack Bowdan
Press Representative: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
General Manager: John E. Gendron
Assoc. Producer: Sheila Steinberg
Production Supervisor: Barclay Stiff
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
October 28, 2009
The Nederlander Theatre’s current revival of Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs, soon to be followed by the third play in Simon’s quasi-autobiographical trilogy, Broadway Bound (omitting the second play in the sequence, Biloxi Blues), is riveting, poignant, and Oh, so New York. The setting is John Lee Beatty’s 1930ish, Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, when Simon was presumably about 14 years old. This trilogy names the immediate family Jerome, with depression era angst, an extended family under one roof, and a yearning young Eugene Morris Jerome (Noah Robbins). Eugene’s 18 year-old brother, Stanley (Santino Fontana), shares endless private conversations with Eugene, upstairs in this life-like set, about his gambling debt, his job problems, and, mainly, girls, girls, girls, and, literally, what lies ahead.
Also living in this brightly polished, but modest home, are Eugene and Stanley’s parents, Kate (Laurie Metcalf) and Jack (Dennis Boutsikaris). Kate is a tightly wound, frustrated, and resigned homemaker, and Jack is the go-to person for advice on all matters human, a heavy-lifter of responsibilities, a garment center worker. Kate’s sister, Blanche Morton (Jessica Hecht), whose husband died early, lives here, too, with her two adorable daughters, a young, somewhat sickly Laurie (Gracie Bea Lawrence), and a shapely teen, Nora (Alexandra Socha), about whom Stanley and Eugene obsess with fervor. Jane Greenwood provides this clan with authentically conceived costumes, never shabby, but no glitz. Brian MacDevitt’s lighting highlights the warmth of this vibrant bunch, as arguments, laughter, and rapid one-liners seamlessly merge. In fact, it’s the rapid one-liners that keep the momentum going, but they’re not delivered vaudeville style, but rather in life-like rhythm, reaching into the actors’ emotions and psyches. I felt like a neighbor, in for a cup of tea.
Kate is the glue of this family, using the dinner table as her set-up. She provides whatever she and Jack can afford, and sometimes it’s the much feared “liver” and vegetables, that Eugene and Stanley abhor. But food is not wasted, nor is loving language. “I love you’s” are substituted by demands and questions, but love is her glue’s main ingredient. She’s just tired and burdened, worried and jaded. Laurie Metcalf exudes just the right credible distress, even at the curtain call. She’s never out of character, nor is Dennis Boutsikaris, as Jack. Jack’s eventual health problems are predictable, but Mr. Boutsikaris draws us in with persuasive feeling. Blanche’s broken date was also predictable, but Jessica Hecht was so forlorn and vulnerable, that she radiated pathos, like a wounded bird. Alexandra Socha and Gracie Bea Lawrence as Blanche’s daughters, Nora and Laurie, were understated and under-showcased, but their characters’ personas were fully in the roles.
Noah Robbins and Santino Fontana were compelling as Eugene and Stanley, in solo and duo spotlights. Stanley’s fretful escape from home, with yet another predictable result, unfolded with Mr. Fontana’s performance strength and convincing affect, and his Brooklyn accent flowed seamlessly. His brotherly tête-à-tête’s with Eugene wove humor with sentiment like fine thread. Noah Robbins’, who speaks to the audience as if he’s Mr. Simon’s diary’s voice, caught my attention from the very first moment, as he pitched baseballs front stage and set the scene and the Jeromes for all to immediately envision. As Mr. Robbins segued from his passion for baseball to his passion for girls, throughout both Acts, he was an endearing and engaging Eugene, one that I loved to watch and listen to. David Cromer is clearly one of the stars of this successful production, as his Neil Simon interpretation keeps the action from taking on an all-too-clever motif. He chooses, rather, to go for earthy, sincere, and un-idealistic. Kudos to Neil Simon, and I’m already looking forward to Broadway Bound.
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