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Brighton Beach Memoirs                  Geva Theatre Center, 2003

Mark Liu - Democrat and Chronicle

It’s hard to see a Neil Simon play without feeling like you’re visiting an old friend—an entertaining friend, but the kind who repeats the same old stories.  Geva Theatre’s production of Brighton Beach Memoirs, which opened Saturday, is a solid one that doesn’t take chances or mess with the formula.

That formula—enter laughing, start arguing, exit hugging—has been a sure thing, launching a thousand sitcom episodes in the process.  In Memoirs, a wisecracking 15-year-old narrates the tale of his Jewish family trying to survive the Depression and itself. It’s a full house, with narrator Eugene’s Aunt Blanche and her two daughters squeezed in afterBlanche’s husband died young.

The problems stack up quickly:16-year-old Nora wants to leave school for Broadway, 18-year-old brother Stanley is faced with sacrificing principles for a paycheck, Eugene’s hormones have no outlet beyond fantasies of seeing his cousin naked.  And these are just the new problems,on top of Blanche’s dependence,the heart flutter that prevents the baby of the family, Laurie,from doing chore one, and the shaky finances of Jack, the patriarch.

With so many people in a small house, these problems are bound to collide.  Geva’s massive set—across-sectioned, three-story house that practically bulges out of the building and scrapes the rafters—is almost a character in itself.  There’s no escaping the confines of its rooms and, by extension, the reach of family.  The impressive set works perfectly with the play’s design, stirring up the problems until there’s nothing left to hide behind except the truth.

But it’s Simon’s house, so the house also is filled with one-liners, funny character quirks and entertaining kvetching.  Dennis Staroselsky as Eugene gets the best material and uses every ounce of it.  He has a talent for mimicking a 15-Year-old’s intonations, and he knows just how toput an exclamation point on Simon’s punch lines.  Mitchell Greenberg as Eugene’s weary but wise father, Jack, delivers such a sturdy performance, he grounds the entire production—a key,really, because his character must do the same.  And Lori Wilner as his wife delivers a performance that builds nicely, propelling the heart of the play.

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Mitchell Greenberg / Lori Wilner

Brighton Beach Memoirs


Geva Theatre Center


Photo: Ken Huth