Depression-era “Brighton Beach Memoirs” prevails with warmth and wit


Brothers (L-R) Stanley (Richard Buchanan) and Eugene (Eric Deiboldt)

By Jacqui Theobald

Neil Simon’s semi-autobiographical memoir is reflective of the human condition, touching both senior playgoers and those new to the theatre. In this highly energetic production directed by Marya Spring Cordes, Eugene is 15 years old, compulsive about baseball, curious about females and living in a house too small for its two families in the 1937 depression era. Played by Eric Deiboldt, Eugene manages to steal the show in the opening scenes whanging a baseball against a metal plate. Accurate and annoying.

Simon knows how to structure a play to feature every single actor in scenes ranging from humor to deeply affecting actions and emotions. Tara Lail is the Producer.

The mom, Kate, played by Lisa Ann Goldsmith, is often referred to as harsh. Here she shows her concern and fear for her family and its financial difficulties while maintaining her need to control by a no-nonsense intensity. Her widowed sister Blanche (Sonia Perez) with her two daughters, Nora (Katie Sinicki) and Laurie (Julie Murphy) have joined the original family; older brother Stanley (Richard Buchanan) and father, Jack (Rory Sheridan). Each is beautifully played.

Taking in relatives who need help happened often during the Depression. An audience member said her family did the very same thing, no matter what kind of stress it caused.

Director Cordes makes the point that contemporary immigrant needs are parallel to earlier times. She rightly praises her able cast.

The set, designed by Dan Gray, is almost another character. In two economical floors that can show more than one scene simultaneously, Cordes makes sure there’s no audible dialogue at cross purposes, relying on visible movement, often pantomime.

Adam Crowell is Technical Director; Eric Moore is Head Carpenter/Charge Artist and Jacquelyn Duncan is Production Stage Manager.

The main conflicts all center on money, or the lack of it. Given all the focus on it, liver and cabbage takes on a life of its own.

Sister Blanche is pampered, has asthma and does not contribute; her older daughter Laurie wants to try out for a Broadway show while still in High School, the younger Nora has a heart condition that keeps her inactive.

In a later delicate scene, Perez and Goldsmith reconnect as loving sisters. Goldsmith’s touching reactions, often the best kind of acting, may not be totally visible to audience left, but her production of real tears is worth seeing.

The scenes between Eugene and Stanley are written and played with all the goofiness and angst and underlying love of brothers. Those between Stanley and Jack range from expected parent and son to a nice twist of humor as resolution.

Despite the family’s lack of personal space, there is a general sense of loneliness expressed in different ways by each of them.

The appropriate acquisitions of Property Master Heather Powell are a show in itself. Imagine what it took to find a treadle belt sewing machine from the era. Many other accoutrements—washed out looking quilts, no style furniture that looks well loved, a peek at an old kitchen—add to the sense of too many in too little room.

Costume Designer David Arevalo has clothed his cast in proper late thirties styles, particularly the women. However, and it is a big however, a family and a mom who stretches every nickel, buys butter by the stick would never have all new clothes, as these appear to be. They would be a little dull and saggy for having served too long. It is a missed opportunity to be visually supportive.

John Rensel, HRT’s stalwart Lighting Designer, really makes the various levels and scenes work with his just right timing on what’s important and what’s secondary.

Should you wonder where Brighton Beach is, there is a hint, almost subtle, of Brooklyn. In earlier rehearsals actors experimented with heavier, thicker accents. “It is part of an actor’s bag of tools,” Kevin Moore, Artistic Producer of the Human Race said. The cast worked with a dialog coach, uncredited Debra Thomas. They were able to maintain a modified language style, consistently.

As always, Jay Brunner on Sound brings just the right touch to the background music and lighter but descriptive pieces that sound original to the thirties or may be
Brunner’s creations.

Brighton Beach Memoirs is the first play of Simons’ Eugene Trilogy that includes Biloxi Blues and Broadway Bound.

These days, audiences may seldom have the endurance to sit through a three-hour play. We are spoiled by the “ninety minute, no intermission” of more current creations. Not so for this memoir. Thanks to the lively production and Simon’s tight writing,
the time flies.

Many were overheard expressing their enjoyment, near delight with the humor and message, “Loved the humor,” “Simon’s the best.” Some may have cut short their usual opening night post curtain snacks.

This old show brings well known HRT talent and actors new to our professional company in a play with a message so subtle and moral as well as funny that it becomes part of your own sensitivities.

The Human Race Theatre production of “Brighton Beach Memoirs” continues at the Loft Theatre through April 22 with various show times. Visit HumanRaceTheatre.org for information and tickets or call the box office at 937.228.3630.

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Reach DCP theatre critic Jacqui Theobald at JacquiTheobald@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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