Raven Theatre presents BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS.
Playwright Neil Simon penned this ode to his childhood. It’s the first of his Eugene trilogy that included “Biloxi Blues” and “Broadway Bound.” In BRIGHTON, Simon remembers growing up in a blended Jewish family pre-World War II. Financial woes mingle with relational roles as the young narrator struggles with his own sexual awakening. The characters are individualized but familiar; overbearing Jewish mama, overworked wise papa, oversexed cocky youth. This play debuted in 1983 during the dawning of the Seinfeld era. The cultural stereotypes may be well-worn but the humor still delights like a Seinfeld rerun with more schmaltz.
Director Cody Estle stages his talented ensemble using every nook and cranny of this house and even the side yard. Although the extra steps going from room-to-room slows down the action, the solid house becomes a comfortable character. It provides solace for the residents to keep secrets and plot their escape. Playing the budding playwright, Charlie Bazzell (Eugene) hits a homerun. Bazell is extraordinary! He kicks off the show by narrating his imagined World Series as his mom, JoAnn Montemurro (Kate), nags him to set the table. Bazzell continues to broadcast his pretend game while interjecting regular barbs about his mom. Simon’s wisecracking dialogue is delivered perfectly by Bazell. He fits naturally into Simon’s 13 year-old sneakers. Bazell’s interactions with Montemurro is the best part of the show. Montemurro makes an exasperating demand and with stellar comedic timing Bazzell has the snarky comeback. Hilarious!
Also, noteworthy is Liz Fletcher (Blanche) as Montemurro’s sister. Having seen Fletcher in a variety of roles, I’m impressed with her ability to morph into the character to almost an unrecognizable extent. This time, she endears with a doormat to independent woman transformation. This is a show about entangled family relations. There are plenty of laughs but there are also the eye-watering moments. The biggest one is a poignant and sentimental exchange between Ron Quade (Jack) and Sam Hubbard (Stanley). Both men bond with manly vulnerability. I got misty over their father-son talk.
And the best supporting award goes to, the house as a strong, fortress of a character. Walking into the Raven’s main theatre is like transporting back to the 1940’s. Set Designer Amanda Rozmiarek has built quite a house. Rozmiarek showcases an intricate two-story home. The walls are missing and provide a more intimate view of the living room, bedrooms, bathroom and lives of this family. Crocheted doilies are draped over the couch, under a lamp, onto the table. A collection of prize spoons hang in the dining room. There is stuff everywhere. Each room has modest yet personalized furnishings depicting the occupant. This is someone’s home. There is an immediate welcoming vibe to sit and have a glass of lemonade. Just remember to use a coaster because Montemurro is very fussy.
BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS proved it’s possible to go home again. Simon’s memoirs are a perfect fit in Raven’s homespun, heartfelt comedy.
Running Time: Two hours and thirty minutes including an intermission
At Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark
Written by Neil Simon
Directed by Cody Estle
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30pm
Sundays at 3pm
Thru July 14th
Buy Tickets at www.raventheatre.com
Production photo by Dean LaPrairie