Strong 'Brighton' cast brings to life Jerome family's struggles
Once again, director Clair M. Freeman has assembled an excellent cast
for the Pennsylvania Playhouse, this time for ''Brighton Beach
Memoirs,'' Neil Simon's story of the Jerome family, struggling to get
by in 1937 Brooklyn. The main character, Eugene Jerome (Douglas
Atkins), is based on Simon himself, although the play is only partly
The play opens with Eugene playing baseball, being nagged by his mother Kate (Ann Marie Squerrini). It seems like a typical situation, but it becomes apparent that the Jerome family has financial trouble. Eugene's older brother Stanley (Alex Rice) may lose his job, and their father Jack (Nick Englesson) has already lost his job.
Jack also has to support Kate's widowed sister Blanche (Nancy Zrake) and Blanche's children Laurie (Morgan Reilly) and Nora (Jennifer Kurtz). Another situation is that Nora wants to quit school to join a Broadway show.
This being a work by Neil Simon, comedy is interspersed with the drama. Eugene often talks to the audience to comment on the family's situation. His awakening sexual feelings are directed toward his cousin Nora, leading him to look to Stanley for guidance.
The funniest lines are Stanley's explanations, which include a discussion about self pleasure. Simon introduces words and situations that were probably never heard on Broadway in 1983. This play's popularity since then proves that the subjects were handled tastefully.
''Brighton Beach'' is not another ''Odd Couple'' or ''Laughter on the 23rd Floor,'' two Simon comedies the Playhouse did last year. There is more drama than comedy in this hour and a half show, including a confrontation between Kate and Blanche, where they reveal long hidden feelings .
Everything works out in the end, perhaps a bit too well considering all the problems, but optimism in tough times is the play's theme.
Atkins looks like a young Dick Van Dyke but sounds like a toned-down Jerry Lewis, a strange combination that works for Eugene. Squerrini and Zrake expertly mix frustration, anger and love in their strong characters. Englesson brings out the dignity in the world-weary Jack, while Reilly, Kurtz, and Rice deftly capture the traumas of their young characters.
If you don't like the cold, this is a trip to the Beach that will be welcome.
''Brighton Beach Memoirs,'' 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, through Feb. 11, Pennsylvania Playhouse, Bethlehem. Tickets: $18; $15, seniors and children under 19 Friday and Sunday only. 610-865-6665, http://www.paplayhouse.org .
Dave Howell is a freelance writer.
Arts and Entertainment Editor