North Raleigh Arts & Creative Theatre’s (NRACT) production of Brighton Beach Memoirs is a delightful guilty pleasure. The story, written by Neil Simon, follows young Eugene Jerome, played to comic perfection by Leo Brody, through the trials of growing up in 1930s Brooklyn. The action takes place in Eugene’s overcrowded home, where he lives with his mother, Kate, (Lisa Binion) and father, Jack, (Falcon Arendell); his older brother, Stanley (David Salisbury); his widowed Aunt Blanche (Aubrey Comperatore); and his cousins, Laurie (Lydia Nethercutt) and Nora (Ashlea Barnett), who dreams of becoming a star and is the secret object of Eugene’s affections…and desires. The workable and striking set realistically conveys the small but welcoming home that the two families share, and director Beth Brody makes clever staging choices that allow the viewer to visit almost every room of the home.
Brody manages to take a script that runs the danger of being the lackluster stuff seen on family sitcoms and turn it into a brilliantly funny and often touching dramedy. A strong and vibrant cast also serves to bring the story to life. Leo Brody’s picture-perfect Eugene garners the most laughs, with his typical boy antics and just the right mischievous glint in his eye, and Binion’s role as his mother is spot-on, the perfect balance of tough
and loving, complemented by her believable accent. In fact, the entire cast shines due to wise choices on director Brody’s part. She makes sure that every cast member is active and engaged whilst on stage, whether in the background or at the center of the action.
While the story abounds with talks of breasts and “self-diddling,” comic moments are complemented by the sweetness of the family’s interactions. Eugene and his mother, Stanley and his father, and even Kate and Blanche share honest moments that cause one to contemplate the true meaning of family. Viewers are sure to leave feeling entertained and uplifted. Following the charming Don’t Dress for Dinner, Brighton Beach Memoirs proves to be another hit for NRACT, making it clear that more patrons need to make their way down to the small theatre that’s big on talent.