Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Stage Door Theatre: Brighton Beach Memoirs

Stage Door Theatre opened its production of Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs on May 31, 2013.
Brighton Beach Memoirs is the first of playwright Neil Simon's unofficial "autobiographical trilogy" (it was followed by Biloxi Blues and Broadway Bound). Eugene, who lives in 1937 Brooklyn with his parents, older brother Stanley, aunt and female cousins . Much is made of Eugene's burgeoning sexual self-awareness and his father's efforts to support his huge extended family on his meager salary
Dan Kelly directed a cast that included Josh Lerner, Alex Salup, Matthew Korinko, Merry Jo Cortada, Elizabeth Simmons, Mary Sansone, and Hannah Wiser.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
Director Dan Kelley has assembled a cast that serves Simon’s play well, with the actors mining just about all of the script’s humor, poignant moments and squabbling. 
Lerner, who will begin his junior year in high school at the end of the summer, is just the right age to play Eugene, but what makes his performance so winning are his eagerness, warmth and observant intelligence.
Salup, a senior at Florida Atlantic University, conveys the myriad worries of a young man forced to play an adult role before he’s quite ready.
Sansone is no petulant teen, but she plays one convincingly, and Wiser is a wise-beyond-her-years Laurie.
Korinko’s Jack is a quintessential father figure, worn out yet genuine in his empathy for those he loves.
Kate is the all-knowing Jewish mother, a tough woman who is sometimes anything but likeable, and Cortada fearlessly explores Kate’s extremes.
Simmons’ Blanche persuasively comes into her own near the end of the play, but during the first act the actress plays her character as a colorless cipher.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
If a piece of theater yanks an emotional response from you, no matter how manipulated you’ve been, no matter how flawed the production is, it’s hypocritical not to admit you’ve been touched.
So acknowledge that Broward Stage Door’s revival of Neil Simon’s thirty-year-old warhorse Brighton Beach Memories is uneven and stumbles. Then acknowledge, at least this critic will, that Stage Door’s edition frequently reaches into that moldy storehouse of decades-old memories of family relationships — and makes the throat close up, the eyes mist and starts a sudden epidemic of sniffling around the auditorium.
 ... don’t slight credit for director Dan Kelley and his cast, especially Merry Jo Cortada and Matthew Korinko as the parents. While much of the cast has trouble smoothly melding the comedy and the pathos that makes this such a tough but rewarding play, they deliver the two separate elements with skill, passion and a credible naturalism. The audible laughter and sniffles testify to their success.
 Kelley’s reputation is rooted in farce and musicals. But here he focuses on helping the cast excavate the genuine emotion. Their chemistry ebbs and flows, but you can’t argue with the palpable bond of love and pain that they create... Where Kelley has really succeeded is pacing: This show never drags; indeed, other than when it needs to slow for dramatic effect, the entire production glides assuredly at a brisk clip.
 Lerner has the requisite vitality and energy that bursts from his face like a carbon arc searchlight. His Eugene has that slightly off-kilter quality of a teenager who finds that his evolving adolescence and libido are keeping him both excited and off-balance. Lerner’s problem is that when the plot turns serious, he’s still pitching that grinning wiseacre persona when you’d expect Eugene to be a shade more chastened.
Cortada... melts into the role of Kate. She perfectly embodies Kate’s steadiness as the beleaguered but loving rock of the family unit.
Korinko... smoothly inhabits the warm and insightful patriarch hiding his panic and feeling of failure over the family’s crumbling finances. If his Jack doesn’t remind you of your own father, you’ll wish that was who your father had been.
Sansone adds another convincing portrait of a girl on the cusp of adulthood, conflicted between obedience to her elders’ insistence she finish high school and a promising chance at her dream of being in a Broadway play
Shout outs are due Sean McClelland who created a convincing clapboard two-story home with period perfect wallpaper whose patterns gel with the modest flowered house dresses chosen by Larry Baumann. Praise is also due Ardean Landhuis who delivers some of the best lighting we’ve seen at a Stage Door show in some time.  There’s a sun-dappled, almost idyllic feel to the opening scenes as light comes through unseen trees.
Brighton Beach Memoirs plays at the Broward Stage Door Theatre through June 30, 2013.

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