Kansas City’s Kansas City’s Jewish Community Center focuses on advancing and educating the public on the Jewish faith and culture, with their various programs and offerings, with most of the programming in Cultural Arts focusing on the culture portion of Jewish identity; and none showcase the performance art better than The White Theatre that presents plays that strike a major cord with audiences--in this case, Brighton Beach Memoirs, Neil Simon’s semi-autobiographical piece.
Brighton Beach Memoirs, first of his trilogy of autobiographical pieces displays the trials and tribulations of a young baseball fan, Eugene Morris Jerome, who finds himself growing up in an extended family of his parents, his brother, his mother’s widowed sister, and two female cousins. Life ain’t easy for a young man on the doorstep of puberty with pipe dreams of a major league baseball career, interrupted with the carnal inquisitions of puberty.
Eugene sees all, hears all, and receives blame for all, or so it seems to him. Eugene dreams of a major league baseball career, but he says he’d trade it all for a glimpse of his cousin Nora naked. And, such are the desires of a borderline pubescent male. He also journals his daily experiences with hopes of being a successful writer, someday. But, try as he may, obstacles just keep distracting him from his plans. Family life prevents Eugene from moving forward too fast. Daily trips to the corner grocery store occupy lots of his spare time.
The extended family of his widowed aunt and her two daughters make matters worse because only Eugene’s dad earns a decent check, and older brother Stanley contributes his check as well to keep the family of seven afloat. And, with young men with young problems, sometimes Stan’s check just doesn’t reach home in tact all the time.
Aunt Blanche does not work. And the two girl cousins are still in high school when Brighton Beach Memoirs opens. Eugene’s parents work hard to keep the family together, share what they have, solve problems as they arise, and pray for family in Europe to escape and come to America.
The Neil Simon play differs from many of his comedies in that it looks into his life. While many funny parts keep the audience involved, the family struggles and Eugene’s dreams create the focus of the show.
Brighton Beach Memoirs at the White Theater comes from director, Tim Bair who created an intimate setting and three-sided seating arrangement, quite different from the use of the entire White Theater auditorium. The audience actually sits on an expanded stage area, making them feel incorporated into the play. The proximity helps inject patrons into the action and brings them closer to all of the actors.
Bair did a beautiful job of staging the play with a talented ensemble of actors, many of which have performed throughout the Kansas City metro area. Very strong performances come from Sarah Montoya, Meagan Edmonds, and Don Leonard. Their performances give the drama to the piece and allow the comedy to also come through.
Up and coming actor, Josh Brady turns in a solid performance as Eugene, and his dialogue and delivery give the humor to the piece. He will continue to grow as an actor and most certainly be visible in future productions.
Brighton Beach Memoirs comes with the highest of recommendations.
The show is not the classic Neil Simon, but reflects some of his early biographical memories. Brighton Beach Memoirs continues to entertain and delight audiences even though it is one of Simon’s earlier works. Brighton Beach Memoirs is set in an earlier, kinder time and the director, crews, and actors do a splendid job of bringing the audience into that time past for an enjoyable romp and escape into bygone days.
For information, go to the website for the White Theatre in the Jewish Community Center of Kansas City: jcckc.org.