Reviewed by Tony Annicone
URI Theatre's latest presentation is Neil Simon's autobiographical play, "Brighton Beach Memoirs". The show is set in September, 1937 but some of the topics in it are relevant to current day events, including reading the newspaper to follow the war, a son wanting to join the Army to defend his country and worrying about relatives in a war-torn area. Director Bryna Wortman and her talented college age performers bring out the comical and poignant moments beautifully in this play about family relationships both good and bad including sibling rivalries past and present, parent and child authority issues and the hilarious behavior of a 15 year old boy's entrance into puberty.
The Brooklyn-born, New York bred, Wortman takes this show and infuses it with her insightful direction to give the seven performers a chance to shine in their "standout" scenes. The family relationships are laid out for the audience to see why the Jerome family behaves the way they do. Bryna delves into the soul of each character to show how well these young people can perform with the right material and the proper guidance. The magnificent two story set with see through scrims on the second floor and an outdoor porch with a stage playing area is breathtaking and professionally constructed by scenic designer Cheryl deWardener as are the costumes by Philip Contic and the lighting by David Roy. Top notch production values and acting are evident in this presentation.
20 year old, Matthew Archambault, a junior from Wakefield, RI plays Eugene Jerome with high energy, great line delivery, wonderful facial expressions and an acting capacity beyond his years. He plays Neil Simon as a boy and narrates the events in his family while acting in his role. The audience really cares about Eugene throughout the entire show due to Matt's strong performance. The loving relationship Eugene has with his older brother stands out in two scenes. The first is the sex talk scene which is the most hilarious in the show. (They talk about naked breasts, wet dreams, creamy white thighs and puberty itself.) The second is the most poignant scene, when his brother leaves home. The interaction between these two young actors brings the audience to tears and the reaction is so beautifully done, the crying is audible rewarding this tender moment properly. Matt's interactions with the whole cast show his depth and range as a juvenille act! ! or. He will be spending the next semester abroad in England. Best wishes and much success in Britain.
Adam Wasserman plays Stanley, Eugene's older brother. Stanley feels he is a failure when he almost loses his job and looses his week's pay gambling. He is also envious of Eugene because his younger brother does well in school and is bound for college. Adam, a junior from Lincoln, grabs the audience from the minute he steps on the stage. His warmth with Eugene and his need for love and approval from his father comes through in his performance. Adam balances the tender moments with the side splitting sex talks he has with his brother. The audience relates to Stanley's problems and empathizes with him. They rejoice when he returns home. Adam does a wonderful job in this multilayered role.
Pamela Calci and Benjamin Dawson play the parents, Kate and Jack. Pamela plays the strong willed and seemingly unloving mother beautifully. You wonder why she can't show her love outwardly and it is revealed in the second act because she never was shown the love by her parents. Kate does not bend when her family is in trouble and Pamela shows her strength in the confronatation scenes with Blanche and Stanley. Her Jewish accent lends itself to her being the eldest sister in the family and showing her distrust of those who aren't Russian Jews. Pamela's funny moments include her chastising Eugene for not eating his liver, for eating cookies and for playing baseball noisily. Benjamin makes Jack a compassionate character by listening to everyone's problems. He shows his caring for his wife, his sons, his sister-in-law, his nieces and his family fleeing the war in Europe. Jack's sage advice to all of them helps to solve their problems. Benjamin makes Jac! ! k the peacemaker in the family and keeps things on an even keel.
Sarah Autumn Feeley plays Kate's younger sister, Blanche. The two sisters take awhile to get into the meaty part of their roles due to Simon's use of them in the exposition scenes. However it is well worth the wait. Blanche finally makes decisions about her life due to the argument scenes she has with her sister and daughter. She reveals why Kate is the way she is and finally realizes she has been treating her older daughter the way Kate was treated by their parents. Addie Lepore plays the eldest daughter, Nora. She is a strong actress and makes this defiant 16 year old stand out. Nora misses her dead father and takes out her resentment on her mother. She defies her by dating an older man. Addie shows Nora's pain with heer body language and facial expressions. The final scene with her mother brings the warmth need to their relationship. Last but not least is Ratkanhnha Siv as the younger daughter, Laurie. She plays the role in pigtails making her l! ! ook very young. The character has a heart flutter so she is coddled and babied. Her uncle sees through her facade and puts her to work doing chores she has been shirking. Ratkanhnha brings this bratty role to life with her energetic portrayal and makes her dialogue with the "older" characters believable. So for a wonderful evening of a funny yet moving show, run to URI to see "Brighton Beach Memoirs". You won't be disappointed. These young people are also collecting funds for the Red Cross effort on behalf of the victims of Sept. 11, before and after the show and at intermission time, too.