Eugene Morris Jerome (exciting newcomer Noah Robbins) certainly has a difficult time of it growing up in a crowded two story home in “Brighton Beach Memoirs” the 1983 Neil Simon comedy that has just opened triumphantly at the Nederlander Theatre with director David Cromer and his exceptional cast getting to the heart of things. Where laughs come alongside pain and sorrow and honest feelings abound and where the sound of the surf co-mingles with the elevated trains passing by every so often.
Growing up with those dirty Irish Murphys living across the street and another World War right around the corner and that new thing called “puberty” – What’s a guy to do? A guy of fifteen who wants to be a baseball star and if that shouldn’t happen (bite your tongue) he can always make good use of his sharpened pencils and wit in recording the antics (with expert Palmer Method penmanship) of his extended family. We should all give thanks that he has such interesting relatives.
There is his neat-nik mother Kate (an incredibly contained with frustration Laurie Metcalf) plumping up the pillows, showing her love and desperation and dispensing guilt more freely than oatmeal cookies. There is her myopic widowed sister Blanche (Jessica Hecht) with her “condition” and her two daughters – Nora (Alexandra Socha) who wants to quit school to become a Broadway actress and Laurie (Gracie Bea Lawrence) who is pampered because of her asthma.
Eugene is strangely attracted to Nora and it is up to his older brother Stanley (an excellent Santino Fontana) to instruct and explain about the opposite sex while trying to deal with the fact that he’s lost his job over his “principles”. His dad, Jack (Dennis Boutsikaris) is trying to hold it all together. Trying to find enough money to make ends meet. And trying not to collapse under the pressure.
It’s as though we have been invited into the Jerome’s home to eavesdrop. It helps immensely that Eugene is so eager and innocent and disarming as he speaks to us directly while running errands for his mom or practicing with his baseball mitt or asking his brother about masturbation. They share a wonderful bond and it’s touching and funny and awesome.
Much of the success is due to David Cromer’s innate sense and talent at being able to communicate to his actors so that they make full fledged people out of these characters. Handling the reality of the moment to moments of their lives so that the comedy is inherent – not just a string of one liners. Of course without Neil Simon there would be nothing. It is a fantastic production which will undoubtedly make a star out of Mr. Simon’s alter ego Noah Robbins.
“Broadway Bound” its companion piece that takes place in the late 40’s will be opening December 10th. Starting on November 18th. They will be performed in repertory on a varied schedule with the part of Eugene being taken over by an older Josh Grisetti on the same marvelously detailed set of John Lee Beatty, home to the Jeromes. I can’t wait.
www.TheNeilSimonPlays.com IT HAS JUST BEEN ANNOUNCED THAT THIS REVIVAL WILL CLOSE ON SUNDAY