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‘Brighton’ family struggles, shines

Tue., Sept. 24, 2013

Interplayers Theatre’s season opener “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” written by Neil Simon and directed by Michael Weaver, features several hallmarks of Simon’s work: humor, touching moments and very real characters.

The semi-autobiographical play centers on members of the Jerome family, who live in a small house in Brighton Beach, N.Y., during the late 1930s. The family is seen through the eyes of Eugene Morris Jerome (Nich Witham), a literary stand-in for Simon.

Witham is the backbone of the production. He exudes enthusiasm and energy as a lusty 15-year-old boy who simply wants to play baseball for the Yankees, write, and see a naked woman. The scene in which Jerome’s older brother, Stanley (Phoenix Tage), explains certain aspects of puberty is hilarious.

The interplay between Eugene and Laurie (Alisha Pierce), the younger cousin who enjoys needling him, is fun and could be played up even more.

Samantha A. Camp gives a strong performance as Eugene’s mother, Kate. She is tired and duty-bound and understandably grumpy. She elicits laughter from the audience each time she yells “Eugene!” Kate also delivers some of the play’s most poignant lines. “I can’t deal with boats that haven’t landed yet,” she says to her husband, as she can only deal with one problem at a time.

With the laughter that Simon creates comes the pain. Children rebel, jobs are lost and tensions rise. In the second act, a series of unfortunate happenings and arguments ensue. Some of these scenes work better than others. An extended fight between Kate and her sister Blanche (Rebecca Goldberg) feels overemotional. In contrast, Kate’s reaction when Stanley tells her he lost his paycheck gambling is softly delivered yet resolute, making it one of the production’s most powerful moments.

Jerome’s father, Jack, played by Christopher Zinovitch, is a likable, decent fellow.

Stanley’s character is described as a charismatic sweet-talker, but Tage’s performance doesn’t quite match up. Goldberg and Sarah Uptagrafft, Jerome’s crush (and cousin), Nora, are earnest but wax toward whining when making emotional pleas.

For several of the characters, the Brooklyn accents seem to come and go.

While conflict appears to tear the family apart, Simon resolves “Memoirs” nicely. As Kate says, “This is a family and the world doesn’t survive without family.”

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