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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS
at the Nederlander

PORTRAIT OF THE WRITER AS A YOUNG MAN
By JOANNE KAUFMAN

  Laurie Metcalf and Dennis Boutsikaris/ Ph: Joan Marcus

Money and shoes and living quarters are tight. Roast beef is out of the question, ice cream a luxury to be rationed. Guilt is the only thing served in nice heaping portions.Such is life in the Jerome household, the setting for Neil Simon's less than memorable memory play Brighton Beach Memoirs, which just opened in a major revival, the first since the show's original Broadway appearance in 1983.

Memoirs, playing in rotation with Broadway Bound, the third installment of Simon's autobiographical trilogy, is essentially a portrait of the artist ( Matthew Broderick in the original production) as a day-dreaming, wet-dreaming Jewish adolescent in 1937 Brooklyn.

Simon's alter ego Eugene ( 18 year old newcomer Noah Robbins in an artfully artless performance) is Memoirs wry put-upon narrator, determined to become a professional baseball player, failing that, a writer. "Someday I'm going to put all these things in books or a play," he vows.

Eugene certainly doesn't want for material. In the course of the almost two and a half hour play, two characters, at least briefly, lose their jobs. One character has a medical crisis. There's an off-stage car accident. Two children consider running away from home. Parents fight with their children; siblings air their long-simmering grievances.

Alas, despite an attractive production, and a skilled, sympathetic director David Cromer Brighton Beach isn't particularly theatrical, certainly not very diverting or involving. Whatever problems are set forth are tidily and patly resolved. Perhaps in a futile effort to add some 11:00 heft, in the very last minutes of the play, the brewing norrors of the Holocaust comes home It feels forced rather than forceful.

Credit Simon for looking back not with anger but rueful affection at his early straitened circumstances. Credit him too for avoiding the usual rat-a-tat of one-liners.

Occasionally the humor is overdone-food jokes!-but it often has a spot-on resonance, for example one character's refusal to make a moral distinction between the Cossacks and the Irish; the dread ailments and diseases-asthma, diptheria, cancer, heart attack-that are mentioned only in a terrified whisper and the role The 39 Steps plays in a discussion of sex.

Even so, the productions chief pleasures are Dennis Boutsikaris' understated turn as Eugene's father Jack, a man who is just a few bad breaks and disappointments from Willy Loman and Laurie Metcalf's performance as Eugene's perennially worried mother Kate, whose orders defy logic ( "If you're going to walk around sit in a chair.") and whose scolding voice can surely be heard in Canarsie.

 

 


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