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Transcript: Connie Meng Review aired Wednesday, October 31, 2001

Brighton Beach Memoirs

Syracuse Stage, Syracuse, NY. Thursday, October 25 through Sunday, October 11, 2001.

BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS, a co-production of Syracuse Stage with Virginia Stage Company and Queens Theatre in the Park, is no doubt one of Neil Simon's best plays. It's set in Brooklyn in 1937 with the possibility of war looming and the Depression still at full tilt. As Mr. Simon said, "I don't write social and political plays, because I always thought the family was the microcosm of what goes on in the world." To 15-year-old Eugene Jerome, the leading character and Neil Simon's alter ego, the most important current event is the possibility of the Yankees winning their second consecutive World Series. Sound familiar? Artistic Director Robert Moss directed the production, and set the tone perfectly with his entertaining curtain speech.

The set, designed by Peter Harrison, is wonderful. I particularly liked the attic, and actually heard someone say, "I want to live in that house." It works extremely well for the play, especially with the addition of A. Nelson Ruger IV's subtle lighting. Patricia Darden designed the excellent period costumes and Zachary Williamson is responsible for the first-rate sound design.

Suzanne Grodner is outstanding as Kate, Eugene's mother. She has the look, the walk and the dialect down pat. Ms. Grodner is a sensitive actress, and allows us to see the vulnerability hidden under the character's strength. Bill Cohen does a nice job opposite her as her husband Jack. His delivery of "Now, sweetheart," to Laurie was just perfect.

Nikki Coble as Nora and Marcy Leigh Finestone as Laurie, Eugene's cousins, are both good young actresses. They play adolescents that could easily become obnoxious parodies, but are actually likeable in this production.

Speaking of likeable, Adam Gertler as Stan, Eugene's older brother, is. There's a wonderfully touching reality in his exit line to Eugene, "Call me Hank. I always liked the name Hank."

Unfortunately Barbara McCulloh seems to be miscast as Blanche, Eugene's Aunt. Her speaking voice is so airy and her dialect so non-existent that it was hard to believe she's part of the family, let alone Kate's sister. I never felt there was a three-dimensional person there.

Matt Benson as Eugene, the central character, needs to take a couple of deep breaths and relax. The basic character is there, but he's just a bit too hyper, particularly when eating the bread. Mr. Benson's a good Eugene, but doesn't need to work so hard. The script has some great lines, and he has one of my favorites. Explaining his yen to play for the Yankees, he bemoans the fact that all the best players are Italian. He wails, "My Mother makes spaghetti with ketchup. What chance do I have?"

The play is so absorbing that I didn't even take any notes in Act II. We all get involved in these peoples' lives. As Director Moss says in his program notes, "It's easy to see this play as a … tribute of sorts to generations. It is always the family."

On a scale of one to five, the Syracuse Stage production of BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS gets four and a quarter oranges. For North Country Public Radio, I'm Connie Meng.

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