Brighton Beach Memoirs
By Neil Simon
Directed by Paul Castaneda
Starring Nate Elliott, Sharon Barbour-Tedder, and Andrew Emery
Breakthrough Theatre, Winter Park FL
Things were dark in 1937, but teen age lust always burns bright. Eugene (Elliot) is at that age when everything is hot, and having a nubile cousin Nora (Gabby Hatch) rooming with his family only inflames the fires. And there are plenty of fires already burning: Older brother Stanley (Emery) nearly gets fired for mouthing off, Aunt Blanche (Jenn Divine) can neither see nor piss nor get off the pot, Father Jack (Mark Davids) lost his part time job selling noisemakers, and they may soon have a house full of Polish refugees fleeing the smoldering European war. All the pressure piles up on Mother, wife, and logistics coordinator Kate (Barbour-Tedder). She’s got a three hour slow burn ahead of her but I give her points for excellent triage when it comes to in house pants on fire crisis management. And while this family may be Jewish, they sure have white bread names.
Elliot’s young man came across as intense, sincere, and a disconnected observer; when you grow up poor you just assume there’s not anything better. Elliot’s chemistry with Mr. Emery drove the story; these two young men saw their brotherhood as their strength and it never felt like any real animosity could exist between them. Mr. Davids overworked father portrayed an exhausted man at the end of his cash as well as internal mojo; but he always gave reasonable advice and you want to fetch his slippers for him. Equally strong was his wife; Mrs. Barbour spent 3 hours in a slow burn and after this evening you see what a great mother can do to hold a family together through thin and thinner.
All of this drama is simply Neil Simon’s way of sorting out his own life. As they told me in playwriting school if you write about a purple octopus living at the bottom of the sea, ultimately you are the octopus. And tonight that octopuse is as horny as you can get, and he really appreciated Stanley’s little sex talk AND the picture postacard. The compressed Breakthrough set only added to the pressure; you could feel the tension build as actors negotiated the small spaces between the couch and the overcrowded bedrooms. It’s a long show, but well worth the ride under the experienced leadership of Mr. Casteneda.
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