"Brighton Beach Memoirs" On Stage at 2nd Space

by Terrance McArthur

Neil Simon wrote more than 60 plays and screenplays, but he was usually put down as a gag maker who wrote popular entertainment. He wasn’t really respected until he wrote his autobiographical “Eugene Trilogy”—Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues, Broadway Bound--plays that focused on the ensemble of characters and their stories, rather than relegating most of the roles to a background status that highlighted only two or three parts. Brighton Beach returns to the Good Company Players; 2nd Space Theatre in a loving production through June 16.

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Eugene Jerome (Ben Applegate) and his older brother Stanley (Jared Serpa) live in the Brighton Beach part of Brooklyn, New York. It’s 1937, and shadows that will become World War II are felt by the father, Jack (Henry Montelongo), who is working two jobs because his wife Kate (Cori Randolph), brought her widowed sister Blanche (Lyndsey Rae) and her daughters Nora (Faith Dumore) and Laurie (Chloe Dumore) into their home six years ago.
good company players
Cast of GCP's production of "Brighton Beach Memoirs"

Applegate narrates himself and various back stories with a gently manic tone somewhere between Matthew Broderick and Mark-Linn Baker. Eugene is excited, but blissfully na├»ve, a teen blindsided by puberty, curious and yellow at the same time. It’s fun to watch him be fourteen.

Serpa is the big brother boys want: cool, more experienced, and willing to share some of his knowledge…for a price. However, his idealism and desire to help the family muddle through Depression America leads him to some rookie mistakes. Serpa’s intensity serves the part well.
Eugene Jerome (Ben Applegate)

Rae carries seriousness as the sister forced to depend on the kindness of family (A Blanche and a Stanley in the same play? Hmmm). She has a touch of Mary Steenburgen about her.

Randolph provides a linchpin for the family, a Jewish mother with some bitterness in her heart. Montelongo is fatherly, avuncular, and a tender husband by turns, a man worn down by the strain of trying to hold all these people together as a unit.

Faith, as Eugene’s older cousin (pretty and ambitious, with dreams of Broadway…and maybe a chance), ably shows the tensions of family life with a not-quite father and desires to contribute that seem callously squashed by others. Chloe is properly wispy as a girl with a weak heart and a perceptive mind.

David Pierce’s sets and Ginger Kay Lewis Reed’s costumes pull you back into lower-class 1937, and Joielle Adams’ lighting are evocative pools that focus and lead. Karan Johnson’s direction is nearly invisible, which is as it should be. In the theatre, people think if the show is good, it must be because of the actors; if the show is bad, blame the director. What wonderful actors she has!

This play is about family—how it works, why it doesn’t, what it’s worth. You laugh a lot, sometimes it’s hard for you to breathe, and when it’s over you want to call someone in your family.

The show plays at 2nd Space Theatre, 928 E. Olive Ave., in Fresno through June 16. Tickets can be purchased on their website or by calling the box office at (559) 266-9494.

If you love local theatre, be sure to check out our new Mysteryrat's Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors. The first 19 episodes are now up! You can check the podcast out on iTunes and Google Play, and also on podbean. A new episode just went up this week!

Terrance V. Mc Arthur is a Librarian in Fresno County, California. He is also a storyteller, puppeteer, magician, and maker of pine needle baskets. On top of that he writes stories that range from rhymed children's tales to splatterpunk horror. He's an odd bird, but he's nice to have around.