North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre’s crowd-pleasing community-theater production of Brighton Beach Memoirs, Neil Simon’s semiautobiographical 1983 coming of-age story, is a family affair. Mother Beth Brody directs, father Ken Brody co-produces with NRACT operations manager Sylvia M. Mallory, and son Leo Brody stars as the playwright’s hilarious fictional alter ego, precocious 14-year-old Eugene Morris Jerome, whose awkward sexual awakening — puberty played for belly-laughs — provides some of the play’s merriest moments.
Faced with a comedy that normally unfolds on a two-storey set and a NRACT stage the size of a walk-in closest, director Beth Brody and her co-set designer and technical director and lighting designer Michael Anderson improvise brilliantly. At the start of the play, the set recreates the living room and dining room of a crowded walk-up apartment in the oceanside neighborhood of Brighton Beach, in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, circa September 1937. The close quarters of the NRACT stage simply underscore the discomfort and lack of privacy for the seven members of an extended Polish-Jewish American family who are crammed into the tiny flat tighter than sardines in a undersized can.
As the show progresses, the stage-right half of the set remains part of the dining room, but the stage-left half of the set becomes cramped bedrooms for brothers Leo and Stanley Jerome (Leo Brody and David Salisbury) and their cousins Nora and Laurie Morton (Ashlea Barnett and Lydia Nethercutt). Brief blackouts during which deft stagehands convert the stage-left half of the set from living room to bedroom and back again, numerous times, dissipate little of the show’s comic momentum.
Leo Brody hams it up hilariously as Eugene, who’s obsessed with seeing his cousin Nora — or any girl — naked. David Salisbury provides a perfect straightman as Eugene’s restless older brother Stanley, whose growing troubles at work jeopardize the dead-end job that he has undertaken to help support the family.
Fiery redhead Lisa Binion is a pip as Eugene’s demanding mother Kate, whose hair-trigger temper regular threatens the domestic tranquility of the home that she shares with her husband, Jack (Falcon Arendell); her widowed asthmatic sister Blanche Morton (Aubrey Comperatore); and their four teenaged children.
Falcon Arendell tackles the thankless role of much-put-upon family breadwinner Jack Jerome with gusto, Ashlea Barnett and Lydia Nethercutt add personable performances as perky dance student and would-be Broadway chorine Nora Morton and her cerebral but sickly sister, Laurie, whose heart flutters curb her enthusiasm for anything more strenuous than sitting and reading.
But next to Leo Brody, who gives a star-making portrayal of cheeky and ever-curious Eugene Jerome, it is Aubrey Comperatore whose passionate performance as Blanche Morton wins the NRACT audience’s hearts and minds. Treated perhaps unintentionally like a charity case by her well-meaning sister Kate and brother-in-law Jack, Comperatore as Blanche becomes the Mouse That Roared, after the Kate finally steps on her last nerve.
Costume designer Laura Cormier Parker also deserves kudos for recreating the look and feel of late-1930s fashions on a shoestring. The cast’s vintage wardrobe and versatile set combine with smart staging by Beth Brody and colorful comic characterizations by Leo Brody, Aubrey Comperatore, and cohorts to make this community-theater presentation of Brighton Beach Memoirs a winner.
SECOND OPINION: March 18th Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts & Entertainment review by Susie Potter: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2011/03/brighton-beach-memoirs-is-another-big-hit-for-nract/; and March 15th Raleigh, NC Classical Voice of North Carolina review by Julie-Kate Cooper: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=1322. (Note: Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the March 11th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2011/03/nract-presents-neil-simons-brighton-beach-memoirs-march-11-27/.)
North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre presents BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS at 8 p.m. March 18-19 and 25-26 and 3 p.m. March 20 and 27 at NRACT, in the Greystone Village Shopping Center, 7713-51 Lead Mine Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27615.
TICKETS: $15 ($12 students and seniors62+), except all tickets $10 for Sunday matinees and $5 Student Rush Tickets (sold 5 minutes before each show).
BOX OFFICE: 919/866-0228, firstname.lastname@example.org, or https://www.vendini.com/.
DIRECTIONS/PARKING: http://www.nract.org/2011/02/13/brighton-beach-memoirs/ (map at bottom of page).
NOTE: Group rates available for groups of 15 or more.
The Play: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brighton_Beach_Memoirs (Wikipedia), http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?ID=2228 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0090774/ (Internet Movie Database). The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
The Playwright: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neil_Simon (Wikipedia), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=7879 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0800319/ (Internet Movie Database).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.