Brighton Beach Memoirs at the Alhambra: A DUAL CRITICS REVIEW
Jacksonville’s Alhambra Theatre & Dining opened Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs on September 18, which runs through October 13, 2019. The theatre is located at 12000 Beach Boulevard in Jacksonville, Florida. Visit alhambrajax.com or call 904-641-1212 for reservations.
After this comedy with heart opened on Broadway in 1983, Matthew Broderick received the Tony for Best Actor in the role of the adolescent Eugene Jerome. Audiences loved it, and it stayed for three years. The play is the first in Simons’s semi-autobiographical Eugene Trilogy which includes “Biloxi Blues” and “Broadway Bound.”
The setting is the home of a Jewish family of seven in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Brighton Beach in 1937. The times are worrisome, as the Depression continues while Hitler is rising to power in Europe. Jobs are hard to find. Money is scarce.
Scene Designers Dave Dionne and Ian Black have constructed a crowded two-story home for the family. The designers have cleverly conveyed information about space constraints by gathering and stacking up more pieces of furniture than ever before seen on the Alhambra’s stage.
This imperfect but cherished space is the home of our leading character, Eugene Morris Jerome, who provides much of the play’s humor. The role is brilliantly portrayed by Evan Gray, a Douglas Anderson School of the Arts sophomore. He began his acting career when he was eight years old, and has racked up credits which include roles in the Broadway production and tour of Matilda (Bruce) and national tours of A Christmas Story (Ralphie) and The Adams Family (Pugsley).
Eugene shares his life with his supportive older brother Stanley (Cameron Hale Elliott), his hard-working father Jack (Robert Herrle), his patient mother Kate (Hillary Hickam), his widowed aunt Blanche Morton (Stacey Harris), and two cousins; the attractive and independent Nora (Kelly Wolfe), and the ailing Laurie (Emma Decker). All are accomplished and believable in their roles. Their accents will have you believing they are New York natives.
Eugene’s hopes and wishes include becoming either a professional baseball player or a successful writer, and seeing a naked girl. Eugene’s one great dislike in life is eating liver, which is served frequently because it’s affordable. He loves his family and wants to help them during these troubled times
Family problems include job losses; afterward, Stanley turns to gambling and Jack develops health problems. Kate’s widowed sister Blanche is unable to find a job to help the family. Her daughter Nora wants to become a professional dancer to help the family financially, which they’re dead set against, as they want her to stay in school.
The play is exceptional, funny, joyful, but at times heartbreaking with its portrayal of both adolescent and adult problems.
Director Tod Booth became associated professionally with playwright Neil “Doc” Simon in 1974 and over the years has directed a number of his plays. His experience with Simon’s work has been evident in a number of the Alhambra’s past offerings.
The Production Team included Tod Booth (Producer/Director), Shain Stroff (Resident Stage Manager), Patti Eyler (Stage Manager/Properties), Bryce Cofield (Assistant Stage Manager), Dave Dionne & Ian Black (Set Designers), Costume Crew (Costume Designers), Linnay Bennet (Sound Design), Daniel Dungan (Lighting Design).
In Booth’s words, Simon “was and will be remembered as the Shakespeare of contemporary times. He wrote for the masses.” This production of Brighton Beach Memoirs sparkles, so take the opportunity to experience a trip back in time to the world that inspired this acclaimed playwright.