Rep Opens Season With Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs”

The Jerome family gathers in the Rep’s production of Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs.” Photo provided by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.

Real life on stage can be compelling or boring. Thanks to the brilliance of Neil Simon, “Brighton Beach Memoirs”- showing us a 15 year old Mr. Simon- comes in as the former. In his vast volume of hit plays, this autobiographical sketch is truly one of his best and the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis brings us a winning production. What you might call the Jewish version of  the Catholic coming of age play, “Over The Tavern” which the Rep has done twice before, “Brighton Beach Memoirs” uses a young narrator to give us an insight into growing up that centers on family. Oddly enough, this is the first Neil Simon play on the Mainstage in this, the beginning of their 46th season.

Michael Curran-Dorsano as Stanley and Ryan DeLuca as Eugene, share a “brotherly” moment in Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs.” Photo provided by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.

Artistic Director Steven Woolf takes the helm as director and he surround himself with an impeccable cast. Ryan DeLuca brings a masterful performance as Eugene who begins the play with an imaginary game of baseball interrupted by his mother who wants him to help set the table. Not a proper job for a future Yankee great. Exposition is easy as the young man uses his natural humor to introduce his mother, father, aunt, two cousins and his older brother throughout the course of the beginning of a typical hectic day in 1937 Brooklyn at the Jerome household.

If Eugene is the catalyst in this play, the mother and father are the glue. She has a solution for every problem and he worries about everything from getting the next meal on the table to the impending war in Europe. Lori Wilner is rock-solid as the mother, Kate. She busies herself with household duties while trying to run that household that is expanded by her sister and her two daughters. Adam Heller is equally adept at bringing sympathy and strength to the father, Jack.

Christianne Tisdale brings the proper dose of empathy to the long-suffering sister while Aly Viny as the pretty, Broadway-dreaming daughter Nora and Jamey Jacobs Powell as the self-fulfilling hypochondriac daughter are perfectly cast as well. Rounding out this misfit family is a truly strong performance by Michael Curran-Dorsano as Eugene’s older brother, Stanley, who brings the facts of life to humorous life but also shines as he lets his pride get in the way of his job and aspirations.

Lori Wilner as Kate and Adam Heller as Jack share a tender moment in the Rep’s production of Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs.” Photo provided by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.

The Michael Ganio set design is a wonder from the upstairs double bedrooms to the great effect of a telephone pole with lines stretching over the audience. It really creates a timeless atmosphere for this period piece. Elizabeth Covey’s costumes and the lighting design of Phil Monat add to the strength of this production while Steven Woolf’s solid direction makes “Brighton Beach Memoirs” an opening to remember.

You can truly believe that the prolific playwright, Neil Simon, grew up under these circumstances and that the loving atmosphere of a family that fights, worries and cares for each other really molded him into what he eventually became. It’s a touching piece filled with humor and one you shouldn’t miss. “Brighton Beach Memoirs” runs through September 30th at the Mainstage of the Rep. Contact them at 314-968-4925 or online at http://www.repstl.org for tickets or more information.

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