12 November 2010

"Sisters, Sisters".... A review of "Brighton Beach Memoirs"

A theatre goer goes to Brighton Beach Memoirs for Eugene (the 15-year-old version of the playwright Neil Simon) and 1) his witty takes on the older generation, 2) his youthful love of sports, 3) his admiration of his brother, Stanley, and 4) his persistent annoyance at the preferential treatment of his "sick" cousin Laurie; and 5) his innocent lust after his cousin Nora.  One remembers BBM, however, for the relationship between the mother, Kate, and her sister, Blanche. 

As directed by Cie Peterson, and brought to life by a cast talented from top to bottom, the production that opened last night at Playhouse on Park meets those expectations fully. 

Matt Macca delivers a nicely straightforward and likable Eugene, endearing in his innocence and humor.  Jack (Robert Resnikoff) is the father everyone would want to have (or want to be): respected and loved and even heeded...a family man, who never quits, and is able to react to crises emotionally while still conscious of keeping his sights on the bigger picture.  (And, to my ear, sounding ever so much like Alan Arkin, and that's not a complaint.)  Stanley (Sam Duffy), Nora (Carolyn Cumming), and Laurie (Hollis Long) help fill out a family that we can enjoy, care about, and cheer for as the various troubles mount in this slice of 1937.

The focus, despite everything that would seem to want to draw our attention elsewhere, however, falls squarely on the sisters, played wonderfully by Jan Neuberger and Heidi Jean Weinrich.  It's hard not to feel the ties of having grown up together, having faced the early death of Blanche's husband together, and raising their children under the same small roof together.  It's hard not to feel the love, the respect, the envy, and the tension that charges their interactions, both trivial and momentous.  It suggests that the recent study connecting happiness and having a sister is undoubtedly true. 

Neuberger's Kate also has a very convincing rapport with Macca's Eugene.  She is able to convey her stern and, at times, irrational maternal insistence that Eugene "just write quietly" outside so as not to disturb his father even as she offers glimpses of the recognition of her younger son's wit and brains.

As a play, of course, Brighton Beach Memoirs is no Equus.  But any play that can offer the following line (probably misquoted here!) in a way that both provokes a laugh and the recognition of its essential, inescapable, and enduring truth is well worth any effort it takes to attend:

"Don't torment yourself, that's what mothers and fathers are supposed to do.


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