At the Raven Theatre, 6157 North Clark Street in Chicago, expect to spend a sentimental and humorous Sunday matinee or evening performance enjoying Brighton Beach Memoirs. The Neil Simon play journeys to Brooklyn, N.Y. in the late 1930s. The Great Depression is still plaguing families across the nation and people like Jack Jerome are worried that money is stretched so tightly just to pay the necessary bills. He’s upset at the thought that his two sons may soon be forced to join the Allies in World War II. And Jack worries about the every-day conflicts which affect him, his wife, their two sons, his widowed sister-in-law, and her two daughters who all live together under one crowded roof in war and peace.
Sixteen-year-old Jewish-Polish narrator, Eugene Jerome, comically but wisely deciphers both his life and that of his extended family throughout the play. His main concerns are naturally his own issues –his consuming love of baseball, his lust for seeing his first naked woman and his desire to become a famous writer. Eugene is witty and wise beyond his age, and actor Charlie Bazzell is adorable and adept at narrating events front- and center-stage (and left field too) during most of the play. He’s definitely an actor whose face you’d like to pinch with love!
Like today’s extended and out-of-joint family life so many of us can relate to, Eugene is quick to point out the many things his family members do to annoy and worry each other: from his mother’s constant commands to do this and do that; to the sudden disappearance of his brother Stanley, who gets involved in gambling to help the family with money. Unfortunately, he loses a week’s pay – which complicates the need for his income to help the family out with necessary expenses.
Revivals of older plays often seem antiquated and aged on stage. If the home’s furniture and tchokes, as well as the actors’ clothes and hair styles were contemporary instead of accurately portraying a time almost eighty years ago, it might just be a play for today.
This play is a semi-autobiographical portrayal of playwright Neil Simon’s early life. On Broadway it won the New Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play in 1983.
The play is at once funny, sentimental, wry, tender, sarcastic, but altogether a worthwhile show to see. My one objection, minor though it may be for some of the audience, is that the talented ensemble didn’t speak “Brooklyn-ese.” I am an expert on that unique dialect every place I go, and the accents were definitely more Bostonian than from any part of Brooklyn I’ve ever lived in or visited. C’est la vie…
Director Cody Estle and his team have selected an excellent acting ensemble amidst a two-story home where the audience views the actions in every room except for the kitchen. The upstairs bathroom even has major importance in the show!
Kudos to the stars: JoAnn Montemurro (Kate- fussy, demanding mother of Eugene and Stanley); Ron Quade (Jack -the father everyone looks to for approval); Liz Fletcher (Blanche-demure widowed sister of Liz who has lost her way in life most of the play);Sam Hubbard (Stanley - Eugene’s older brother); Sophia Menedian (Nora-Blanche’s older daughter whom Eugene lusts for); and Elizabeth Stenholt (Blanche’s younger and quitter daughter).
To be congratulated for their talent: Amanda Rozmiarek (Set Design/Scenic Artist), Greg Hofmann (Lighting Designer), Frances Maggio (Costume Designer), Melissa Schlesinger (Sound Designer), Andrei Onegin (Technical Director), Justin Castellano (Master Electrician), Kate Hardiman (Dramaturg), Kendra Thulin (Dialect Coach), Kate
Masiak (Stage Manager) and Hana Rickert (Assistant Stage Manager).
Show Time Two hours and thirty minutes including an intermission
At Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark
Written by Neil Simon
Directed by Cody Estle
Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30pm
Thru June 29th
Tickets at www.raventheatre.com
Photos: Dean LaPrairie