CRITICS’ CORNER: Theatre Review – Brighton Beach Memoirs

AJ Rella, Junior, Web Editor

Pelham Memorial High School’s nationally recognized drama program, Sock ’n’ Buskin, recently revitalized Neil Simon’s classic from the 1980s, Brighton Beach Memoirs, with a sparkling production that opened for a one weekend run on November 16. Sock ‘n’ Buskin’s seriocomic rendition of Brighton Beach Memoirs did not disappoint audiences.

Neil Simon, the playwright for both Fools and Brighton Beach Memoirs, passed away in August 2018 at the age of 91. Simon wrote over thirty plays in his lifetime and won multiple Tony awards for his contributions to the world of theater. Brighton Beach Memoirs, a semi-autobiographical memoir, is largely inspired by his youth. Simon grew up in a poor Brooklyn family during the Great Depression, and took solace in writing with a humorous point-of-view during one of the lowest points in American history. Simon also used comedy to escape from problems faced within his own home and family, writing about situations that were universal.

The teenage Neil Simon is represented in Brighton Beach by 15-year old Eugene Jerome, played with impish sarcasm by junior Jack Finegan. Eugene grows up in a Brooklyn neighborhood not far from the beach, in cramped quarters occupied by his parents, Jack and Kate (seniors Jack Hopkins and Athena Woodfin), his older brother, Stanley (senior Sam Rodd), his widowed Aunt Blanche (senior Maggie Solimine), and her daughters, Nora and Laurie (junior Meredith Heller and freshman Caitlin Winston), who have lived with them for six years. Despite working two jobs, Jack barely makes enough money to support his family. One by one each character faces a crisis of their own — only to discover in the play’s final moment just how insignificant each crisis truly is when the world is on the brink of war. Eugene begins writing memoirs that highlight his family’s experiences in a humorous fashion, and discovers that, to paraphrase Kate, even the best friends are strangers, but family is family.

The cast effectively juxtaposed the droll, light-hearted nature of Act I with the poignant atmosphere of Act II. During Act II, interpersonal conflicts within the Jerome household finally came to the surface. The actors were able to convey the raw emotion that made Brighton Beach Memoirs the longest-running Neil Simon play on Broadway. Their performances were both moving and extremely captivating. The quality of the production was enhanced by an amazing set design of a two-story, four-bedroom pre-war home that made the limited space of the Pelham stage look enormous. Attention to detail such as vintage hairstyles and costumes evoked the time period perfectly. Sock ’n’ Buskin’s approach to the aesthetic elements of the play made a bygone time come to life.

A huge part of Sock ’n’ Buskin’s success can be credited to the exceptional directing of Mr. Beck and Mr. Schleifer. They spent many evenings working with the cast to perfect every aspect of the production. Mr. Beck enjoyed putting on Brighton Beach Memoirs because “…it conveys important messages about family and human nature.”