A Dual Critics Review
Douglas Anderson School of the Arts opened Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs” on January 31, which continues during February 6 – 9, 2019. The school campus is located in Jacksonville’s San Marco area; the show is in the Black Box Theatre. For tickets, visit www.datheatreboosters.org or call the Box Office at 904-346.5620 x 122.
Simon, who died at age ninety-one last August, left behind a lifetime filled with productions for theatre, film, and television. Many of his stories were set in New York City, where he was born. Notable works include “Barefoot in the Park,” “The Odd Couple,” and the Pulitzer winner “Lost in Yonkers.”
“Brighton Beach” takes place in the home of a Jewish family in a Brooklyn neighborhood in 1937; before most theatre-goers in present-day audiences were born. Americans continued to struggle with the economic devastation of the Great Depression, Hitler was becoming ever more oppressive, and war clouds were forming. Sound depressing? Could be, but this semi-biographical story is poignant and heartwarming. And funny; it’s Neil Simon.
Eugene Jerome (masterfully portrayed by Evan Gray) is the central character in this family of seven, who acts as the narrator and provides many comic moments while holding the play together. At fourteen, he has three ambitions: to play professional baseball, become a successful writer, and see a naked girl (sometime). He also loves his family members and wants to help them during this troubled time.
Stanley (Ethan Venzon), Eugene’s brother, is a couple of years older and more worldly. He and Eugene share a small upstairs bedroom, which serves as a retreat space where he can talk with Eugene and offer big-brother advice. Stanley has a factory job and isn’t happy about it, but has no choice. He is worried; after a run-in with his boss, it appears likely that he will lose his job and won’t be able to continue to help support the family – millions are unemployed and a new job may be impossible to find.
Kate, the mother of the two boys, is an endearing, loveable, and sensible woman, well portrayed by Graciela Fernandez.
The house is crowded: Kate’s sister Blanche (Anna Beyer) and her two daughters also live there. Blanche has recently been widowed, doesn’t have money of her own, and isn’t ready to look for a job. Her two daughters share an upstairs bedroom. Nora (Mallorie Sievert) is a vivacious talented teenager who wants to be a professional dancer. She has just been offered a role in a touring show, but can’t accept without her mother’s consent. Her younger sister Laurie (Nina Simone Diaz) has medical problems which include heart flutters, and needs frequent attention from others.
The family turns to Jack (Anthony Lierandi), Kate’s husband and the head of the household for help and guidance with troublesome problems. Jack has been working long hours at two jobs to provide food and shelter for the others. He has just lost one of those jobs, and the family is facing a difficult future.
The cast was superb throughout. They had excellent timing and delivery and most importantly, they owned their roles; they could have been mistaken for New Yorkers.
The set design by Nolan O’Dell is a picture-perfect recreation of a modest two-story Brooklyn residence. We have seen a number of productions in the Black Box and are in awe of the ability of designers to change the space to meet the needs of directors and their casts.
The setting is realistic, taking us back to the late 1930s, with an old-time radio, sewing machine, and light fixtures. Clothing also reflected the era. Alexis Szczukowski (Props Crew Head) and Lizzie Robinson (Costume Crew Head) and their crews have done a marvelous job in obtaining these vintage items.
Who’s Who in Crew include Tianna Matthews (Sound Crew Head), Chloe Cuff and Leslie Infante (Stage Managers), and Anna Toutain (Dramaturg).
Brighton Beach was directed by Simone Aden who has been teaching at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts for twenty-five years. We have seen a number of plays she has directed in the Black Box space; they are usually classics that give the students the opportunity to experience great shows from the past. Aden is also a fine actress and we have seen her in many outstanding roles on our local stages.
Others on the Creative Team included Jennifer Kilgore (Technical Director/Lighting Designer), Jonathan Kilgore (Lighting Design), Susan Peters (Charge Scenic Artist), Tianna Matthews (Sound Crew Head), with Chloe Cuff and Leslie Infante (Stage Managers).