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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

To Laugh, to Love, to Leave and to Live Neil Simon Recounts His Past in His “Brighton Beach Memoirs”

Published: March 6, 2009
Section: Arts, Etc.

PHOTO from Internet Source

PHOTO from Internet Source

We all remember our angst-ridden teenage years, right? Well, I sure remember mine and boy, they were nothing like what I saw tonight. The plot of “Brighton Beach Memoirs” revolves around Eugene Morris Jerome, a 15-year-old boy growing up in Brighton Beach, a community on Coney Island, Brooklyn, during the Depression. With Eugene narrating the events of the play as we see them occur, constantly and humorously commentating along with his exposition, we watch him grow from an awkward, pimple faced, horny boy into a slightly less awkward, less oily young man.

In this production, directed brilliantly by Brian Melcher ’10, Eugene is played by Danny Katz, who, for a college student, is surprisingly convincing as a teenager and carries this complex show quite well. Sam Roos ’09, as Eugene’s older brother, Stanley, is also quite strong in his too few scenes. His strong stage presence and powerful delivery provided the weight this show needed to contrast with the humor. Jessi Fixsen ’12 as Nora, Eugene’s shapely cousin after whom he lusts, is the strongest performer the Brandeis stage has seen in all the years I’ve been seeing theater here. Her ability and willingness to disappear into a character and make that character live is quite astonishing – an example of Method acting Stanislavski would be proud of. The real star of this production, however, is Lauren Elias ’10 as Blanche, a long suffering, stifled Jewish mother who, along with her two daughters, Laurie (Briana Bensenouci ’12) and the aforementioned Nora has been living in her sister’s house for more years than any of them would like to remember. Not that they don’t get along – Blanche and her sister, Kate (Anne Chiorazzi ’11), in a performance that is suitable, but not inspired, love each other more than anybody else, but times are hard and there’s an unpopular war occuring. But while it may be Kate’s house, this is certainly Blanche’s show, and Elias certainly does not disappoint. She gives her character nuance and clarity that I’m not sure even Neil Simon knew this character could have. Though her facial expressions seemed not to vary much, her voice and movements were more than enough to ensure that you never took your eyes off her, even when she wasn’t on stage.

The production as a whole was extraordinarily well put together and guided by Melcher’s well-tempered hand. The show was paced well and had a set of fully developed characterizations – a rare feat for a college production. Of the design elements, the set was definitely the main attraction. This is certainly the biggest set that has been seen on the Shapiro stage in many years and is a major accomplishment for designers Melcher and Bryan Prywes. The set was not only large, but fit the story well, and even if it was not the most attractive set I have ever seen, nor the most central to the story the way some sets can be, it certainly did its job and was quite impressive for a college show. Carolyn Burns’ costume design also fit the 1930’s style quite well. David Sheppard-Brick’s lighting design also quite effectively conveyed the mood of the play, as well as giving the space the feeling of being old and well loved, which is just what this play needs.

Brighton Beach Memoirs by Neil Simon; directed by Brian Melcher; sets by Brian Melcher and Bryan Prywes; costumes by Carolyn Burns; lights by David Sheppard-Brick; sound by Dan Lincoln; stage management by Becca Freifeld; produced by Jacqueline Feinberg and the Brandeis players at the Shapiro Theater, 415 South Street, Waltham MA 02453. February 26th through March 1st, 2009. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.