Saturday, May 06, 2017

Brighton Beach Memoirs

In a year of firsts, another one today. My first visit to Theatre J at the Ed Lavitch Jewish Community Center on the corner of Q and 16th streets in DC. The theater is in a refurbished auditorium that was originally used as a sanctuary from the looks of it. The building itself is home to many activities from classes to food distribution to the elderly. When I was leaving a meeting room adjacent to the exit was just filling up for a forum on supporting and knowing the rights of immigrants. And as a sign of the times, you have to pass through a metal detector to enter...

The show was Neil SImon's "Brighton Beach Memoirs." I had a great seat. C11 was dead center third row from the stage with an incline that removed any concern over a blocked view by the person in the row in front. Having recently experienced the unpredictability of the Metro system, I arrived 30 minutes before curtain and wondered as the theater was very slow to fill up.  The audience, in the end was only about 40% full--which I thought odd in that the show was extended for an additional week.  The five seats to my left were empty.  On my right sat a women with a young boy.  I'll say he was about 9.  She seemed to be his aunt.  During the first act when the conversation between Eugene and Stanley turned to masturbation, the boy suddenly went from the model theater go-er to uncomfortable, to squirmy, to agitated.   At intermission he burst into tears and they left.
As to the production itself, the sets were beautiful. Wonderful detail, and they gave the actors the space to move through the story with a balanced sense of privacy and clutter.

The show's shining star what it's youngest cast member, Cole Sitilides as the precocious narrator/protagonist Eugene. He was pitch perfect in every way and never failed to command the audience's affectionate attention--I found myself rooting from him from the first inning on. The three adult members of the cast formed a night foundation and worked well together, or them I was most impressed with Lise Brunaeu, whom I had also seen in "Watch on the Rhine" at Arena Stage back in February or March. She has a glowing stage presence and singular focus when inhabiting a character that really came through in both of these experiences with her. The remaining members of the cast were fine, if at times a little one-dimensional. When you have a member of an ensemble who is a charismatic in his portrayal as Cole was, it can feel like other lesser characters find a safe place to inhabit and just slide along for the ride.

One of the other interesting things about this past year or two of theater going for me has been seeing for the first time works (sometimes multiple works) by some of the classic and iconic writers of the American Theater, and certainly Neil Simon falls into this august company of playwrights.  So what can be said of the play itself?  It's a well-written work with adequate tensions and satisfying resolutions without any need to be profound.  There are moments of deeply felt ideas, but mostly it's just a sentimental romp through the lives of a Jewish family (warts and all) surviving in a specific place and time now archived in this delightful little play.  I enjoyed it, and I enjoyed this production of it.

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Cole Sitilides as Eugene Jerome

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