By Kevin T. Baldwin
“Can you believe that? She'd better have a bad heart or I'm going to kill her one day..."
- ("Eugene") / Neil Simon
Written by Neil Simon
Directed by Paul R. Dixon
Cast Includes: Michael Jay as "Eugene Morris Jerome"; Autumn DeSisto as "Kate Jerome"; Judson Pierce as "Jacob 'Jack' Jerome"; Sylvia Nicol as "Laurie Morton"; Devon Atwood as "Stanley Jerome"; Betsy Cohen as "Blanche Morton"; Amanda Albion as "Nora Morton"
Additional Creative Team: Producer, Sound Operator - Mike Lague; Producer - Tom Sullivan; Stage Manager - Ben Cantor-Adams; Set Design / Construction Chief - Allen Bantly; Props - Anne Bantly; Set Dresser, Publicity - Andrea Roessler; Costume Design - Sue Flint; Hair and Makeup - Jeanne Callinan; Lighting Design - Susan Tucker; Sound Design - Ed Council; Sound Operator - Henry Santiago
February 9, 2024 through February 24, 2024
(Contact Box Office for Exact Times)
All performances to be held at 51 Walden Street, Concord, MA.
Call # 978 369-2990 or visit https://concordplayers.org/
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The Simon two-act play, superbly directed by Paul R. Dixon for Concord Players, premiered in 1982 and, in 1983, was bestowed the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Play and nominated for the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play. That original production also featured a very young actor named Matthew Broderick.
In 1986, "BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS" was adapted into a feature film starring actor Jonathan Silverman.
The story is a semi-autobiographical recollection by Simon and is the beginning installment of the “Eugene Trilogy” which continues in Simon’s “Biloxi Blues” and “Broadway Bound.”
The overall plot concerning a Depression-era family is narrated by young Eugene Morris Jerome (Michael Jay), a Polish-Jewish American kid who recalls this time living with his family in a Brooklyn borough just shy of when the United States entered into World War II.
Jay is completely charming and charismatic as our guide from the outset of the show. Yet one will need to suspend disbelief if one is to buy into this "Eugene" as being only 15-years-old. A minor issue, indeed, as his performance is splendid.
It is 1937 in Brighton Beach, and Eugene’s widowed Aunt Blanche (Betsy Cohen), along with Blanche’s two daughters, Nora (Amanda Albion ) and Laurie (Sylvia Nicol), comes to live with Eugene, his older brother, Stanley (Devon Atwood) and his parents (Autumn DeSisto and Judson Pierce) after the death of Blanche’s husband.
(Photo: Sylvia Nicol as "Laurie Morton" sits across from Betsy Cohen as her mother, "Blanche" while Amanda Albion as Laurie's sister "Nora" observes in a scene from "BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS" by Neil Simon presented by Concord Players in Concord, MA. now playing through February 24, 2024. Photo Credit Chris Pollari)
This isn’t typical Simon fare with his trademark rapid-paced "set-up->punchline->rinse->repeat" humor. With the trilogy, Simon definitely takes a more introspective approach.
Søren Kierkegaard once offered, "Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards."
It seems Simon wanted to see if he could either prove or disprove Kierkegaard in his more personal writings, and, quite possibly, it gets no more personal than right here in his "BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS," beginning as a humorous memory but soon plunging into an abyss of loss and regret for many of its characters.
"Characters" almost seems to be an insult because, thanks to the marvelous performances by this Concord Players cast under Paul R. Dixon's direction, this family comes across as completely genuine. Also, kudos for the overall consistency when it comes to the accents applicable to these particular New York residents.
Their experiences feel real. THEY feel real.
Yes, the Jerome house is crowded with people but it is also crowded with precious moments, as we soon learn.
The split level set design shows us how claustrophobic the household might have been without making it too difficult for the actors to move around on stage. Again in noting the applicable fine attention to detail, the set, costumes and period-specific furniture all deserve high praise.
The show may seem long for a two-act, pushing nearly three hours (okay - two hours, 40 minutes) that it feels like it should have been three acts.
However, structurally, it is difficult to determine where one might place that "break" in the action.
So, ultimately, Simon made the right call because the story is unconditionally absorbing that you find yourself not WANTING another "break" in the action.
What is mesmerizing about Simon’s writing is how he reels us in, making us instantly connect with these characters and being perfectly okay spending a little more time in our seats watching their tale unfold.
Simon wants us to really get to know these seven people. These characters seem to matter more to him because they are not merely dramatis personae but rather memories or "composite reflections" of his own family.
They all have their varied strengths and weaknesses with complex interpersonal relationships that don’t just get a five second wrap-up by the end of the show.
The plots and subplots do take some time to wrap up near the story's conclusion but are nonetheless emotional and well worth the wait.
(Photo: Michael Jay as "Eugene Morris Jerome" listens intently to Devon Atwood as his brother "Stanley" in a scene from "BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS" by Neil Simon presented by Concord Players in Concord, MA. now playing through February 24, 2024. Photo Credit Chris Pollari)
Meticulously timed lighting isolates the various interactions between all the characters taking place at the Jerome homestead. Sound levels could have been taken up a notch or two as some of the more fast-paced Simon dialogue, especially on the upper platform, did get lost during the February 9th performance.
On that upper platform, while Nora and Laurie share one bedroom, Eugene shares a bunk bedroom with older brother Stanley.
Atwood is very animated on stage as the anxious and struggling “Stanley.”
Stanley has two separate work-related issues, one in each act, both causing friction at home as he contributes to the family income, along with his economically struggling father, Jack (Pierce).
It is interesting to watch how what seems like a mere $17 to us today meant so much to a family of seven (and potentially "seven and counting" with relatives fleeing war torn Europe) back then.
Pierce fully embraces the character of “Jack," providing a much-needed calming influence for all the other family members engaged in conflict while, in reality, his own character seeks to keep himself calm over mounting severe personal pressures.
(Photo: Sylvia Nicol as "Laurie" with Autumn DeSisto as "Kate Jerome," Betsy Cohen as "Blanche" and Judson Pierce as "Jacob 'Jack' Jerome" in a rehearsal photo from "BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS" by Neil Simon presented by Concord Players in Concord, MA. now playing through February 24, 2024. Photo Credit Chris Pollari)
16-year-old Nora wants to abandon school and pursue a career on Broadway, but she struggles with Blanche, who is afraid to exert parental control because that was something that would normally have been done by her late husband.
Nora’s younger sister, Laurie, has a mild heart condition, but seems more functional than she lets on, and tends to be overly coddled by both Blanche and Eugene’s mother, Kate.
Cohen and Albion are terrific, sharing many intense exchanges throughout the story but never lose that "mother-daughter bond," especially during more heated moments in Act Two.
Nicol, as "Laurie," serves well both as a foil for Eugene and as a sounding board for her mother and sister, individually, along with a few other characters.
During Act One, the focus seems more to be on Eugene but, by Act Two, that focus clearly shifts to the relationship between sisters Kate and Blanche, featuring some of the most intensely powerful exchanges in the show and also some of Simon's most eloquent writing.
Cohen and DeSisto give powerful, dynamic performances, and some of their dialogue will resonate and have more than a few folks tearing up toward the end.
"BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS" continues at the Concord Players until February 24th and, Kierkegaard aside, Simon proves that: while life must be lived forwards, it is okay, once in a while, just to travel back in time, even if only in your mind, to revisit, recall, and help try and gain better understanding of that which came before.
For tickets and more information, call # 978 369-2990 or visit https://concordplayers.org/
Approximately two hours, 40 minutes with one intermission
Kevin T. Baldwin is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA)
ABOUT THE SHOW
"BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS" is the first play in Neil Simon's semi-autobiographical comedic "Eugene trilogy," which also includes "Biloxi Blues" and "Broadway Bound."
The story of "BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS" follows almost 15-year-old Eugene Jerome as he grows up in 1937 Brooklyn.
Eugene learns about girls, family, relationships, and the impending war.
Eugene makes many witty observations about life and the need for family throughout the play, as he interacts with his passionate, quirky Polish-Jewish relatives.
ABOUT THE CONCORD PLAYERS
THE CONCORD PLAYERS are proud of their continuous record of presenting quality theatre to the citizens of Concord and the surrounding communities. Three major productions are mounted each season. In addition, one-acts, such as the annual entry into the Eastern Mass Assn of Community Theatres (EMACT) Spring Festival, are frequently presented. Workshops in acting, directing, and technical theatre are also offered to the membership.
The purpose of our organization is to produce and perform quality theatre for the citizens of Concord and the surrounding communities. We encourage the participation of people with an interest in technical theatre, as well as in performing.