Theatre Mirror Reviews-"Brighton Beach Memoirs"

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entire contents copyright 2014 by Tony Annicone

"Brighton Beach Memoirs"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

Newport Playhouse's autumn show is Neil Simon's "Brighton Beach Memoirs." It is an autobiographical play about Neil Simon's family relationships both good and bad including sibling rivalries past and present, parent and child authority issues and the hilarious escapades of a 15 year old boy's entry into puberty. The play isn't only beautifully written but has some strong acting in it, too. Director Ralph Stokes infuses his cast with the dramatic and comic moments that the script calls for creating a crowd pleasing show the audience can savor and enjoy.

Graham Stokes tackles the role of Eugene with high energy. He narrates the happenings of his family as well as playing this 15 year old youth. Eugene's close relationship with his brother comes through in the sex talk scene about naked breasts, wet dreams and puberty itself and the second when his brother leaves home. Graham has wonderful interactions with the whole cast, delivering a comic performance while doing so.

George Selwyn plays Stanley, Eugene's older brother. Stanley feels like a failure because Eugene does well in school and is bound for college. George conveys his warmth for Eugene and his need for approval from his father. He also is very funny in the sex talk scene. George does a terrific job in his debut on the mainstage. The audience can empathize with Stanley on his gambling and almost losing his job. Sandy Cerel and David Adams Murphy play their parents, Kate and Jack. Sandy's Kate is a strong willed woman who does not bend when her family is in trouble. Her best scenes are the confrontation with Stanley and Blanche while the funny moments include chastising Eugene for not eating his liver, for eating cookies and for playing baseball too noisily. Her strongest dramatic scene occurs in the argument with Blanche. David fleshes out Jack by his warmth for his wife, sons, sister-in-law and nieces. His sage advice to them helps the other characters solve their problems. The audience enjoys when he reassures Stanley of his love and forgiveness for his mistakes.

Amy Thompson plays Blanche, Kate's weak-willed sister. Simon uses the character in the exposition scenes and the meatier part of her role comes in the argument scenes with Kate and her daughter, Nora. This is where Blanche finally gets a backbone to stand up for herself and is a gut wrenching scene between Amy and Sandy as well as Amy and Steph. Stephanie Rodger plays Nora perfectly with excellent line delivery. She misses her dead father, takes her resentment out on her mother and dates an older man. Stephanie shows the hurt and resentment on her face. She and Amy make the final scene between mother and daughter extremely poignant. Bethany Gagnon is Laurie, Blanche's youngest daughter. The character has a heart flutter so she is coddled and babied. Her uncle sees through her facade and puts her to work to do the chores she has been shirking. So for a very well written Neil Simon show, be sure to catch "Brighton Beach Memoirs'' at the Newport Playhouse. You will thoroughly enjoy an all you can eat buffet before the show and an enjoyable fun-filled cabaret after it. Run do not walk to the box office before this show sells out. Special praise for the fantastic two story unit set by Fred Davison, Tonya Free and Isabella Bennett as well as the lovely 1930's costumes by Irene Handren and Deborah McGee

"Brighton Beach Memoirs" (30 October - 23 November)
@ 102 Connell Highway, NEWPORT RI

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide