Brighton Beach Memoirs
Neil Simon returns.
Wed Oct 28 2009
BLOOD IS SHTICKIER THAN WATER The extended family sits for a portrait;...
Do Neil Simon’s characters realize how funny they are? For half a century, the master comic playwright has penned countless punch lines for hundreds of kvetchers, kooks and neurotic ninnies. But do his creations find their own jokes laughworthy? In the revival of Brighton Beach Memoirs, they do. I wonder if at some point in rehearsals, director David Cromer turned to Laurie Metcalf—playing bellow-prone matriarch Kate Jerome—and encouraged her to crack up over a line about how dirty the neighbor’s windows are.
Or maybe the two or three times actors got the giggles—almost out of character—were unfeigned. That would be quite understandable: Simon’s 1983 memory play is a skillful blending of misery and whimsy, told from the perspective of wisecracking Eugene Morris (the very adept Noah Robbins) who regards his cash-strapped Jewish household as material for a writing career. Eugene is an outsider and a chronicler of his Brooklyn clan and its discontents. There’s plenty of sentimental sepia in Simon’s portrait, but welcome flashes of lust and irreverence too. Doubtless the actors are prone to guffaw when Simon so expertly switches tones. In other words, when the denouement juxtaposes the escape of Jews from Nazi-occupied Poland with Eugene’s swoon over a pornographic postcard, you have to laugh.
You could call it Odets with titty jokes, but humor is desperately needed in the Jerome household. Cromer and a simply superb cast (including Dennis Boutsikaris as father Jake, Jessica Hecht as Aunt Blanche and Santino Fontana as the older brother) take the hardship of the Depression-era period seriously, and don’t lean on the script’s sitcomish rhythms. By not treating Brighton Beach Memoirs as one of the author’s typical yukfests, the drama ends up being that much more hilarious.—David Cote
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