Monday, October 26, 2009

Brighton Beach Memoirs (The SOB Review)

Brighton Beach Memoirs (The SOB Review) - Nederlander Theatre, New York, New York

**** (out of ****)

Prepare to be astonished.

Back in the eighties when I was just beginning to enjoy Neil Simon's seminal comedies on film, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright was already reinventing himself on the Great White Way with heartfelt plays that have consistently been ranked among the very best in his entire oeuvre.

So a generation later, I've finally started catching up on those works. And are they ever mighty.

Three years ago, I caught a tremendous production of his 1991 hit Lost In Yonkers that was found in Minneapolis. It demonstrated Simon's introspective genius. Despite being a nod to his own youth, the play was so vital, real and relevant.

But not even that mounting could have prepared me for the earnest and devastating charms found in Simon's superb Brighton Beach Memoirs. The play is so well-written, it's no wonder it ran on Broadway for a solid three years. Set in the 1930s, this semi-autobiographical period piece is currently receiving an excellent revival, flawlessly executed by director David Cromer.

Through Brighton Beach Memoirs, Cromer further cements his reputation, burnishing his credentials as a brilliant, visionary master at breathing vigorous new life into classic material. But unlike his mind-blowing, stripped-down revival of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town -- still playing New York's Barrow Street Theatre -- the director stages Brighton Beach Memoirs with all the bells and whistles you'd expect from a Broadway show, which is Cromer's first.

John Lee Beatty's design of the Jerome Family home is evocative of the type of Depression-era residence where you'd expect to find an extended family forced to live together out of sheer necessity. And those bells and whistles, and other sound effects? Well, they're compliments of Joshua Schmidt and Fitz Patton (the former wrote the score to the revered musical Adding Machine, which was also helmed by Cromer).

An exuberant Noah Robbins makes his impressive Broadway debut as Eugene Jerome, Simon's young alter-ego. His dream may be to become a great baseball player, but by living in a cramped Brooklyn household his parents have opened to his widowed aunt and her two daughters, Eugene discovers that he not only possesses the ability to discern major milestones under that roof, but also has a knack for writing about them, too.

With winsome appeal, Robbins captivates and enthralls, whether serving as de facto narrator or when engaging in often spirited dialogue with the revival's fine ensemble that includes the extraordinary Laurie Metcalf (as his mother Kate), the magnificent Dennis Boutsikaris (as his father Jack) and the sublime Santino Fontana (as his brother Stanley), along with Jessica Hecht (as his Aunt Blanche) and Alexandra Socha and Gracie Bea Lawrence (as his cousins Nora and Laurie, respectively). Make no mistake, this show has been perfectly cast throughout. There's not one false note to be found.

As outstanding as Cromer's ensemble is, Laurie Metcalf is an unmitigated and complete triumph as Kate. Without ever overshadowing the rest of the cast, Metcalf delivers one of the year's most withering, nuanced performances. Her omniscient Kate may have eyes in the back of her head, as the young Eugene knows all too well when sneaking a cookie, but it's the subtlety within Metcalf's eyes and facial expressions that lend sumptuous layer after layer to the enormous depth of her portrayal. Simply put, Metcalf is amazing.

No wonder this Brighton Beach Memoirs left me utterly gobsmacked and misty-eyed. Cromer and his cast have delivered yet another outstanding revival that is unmistakably unmissable and will have you yearning for more.

Fortunately, that wish will come true soon enough via the Broadway-bound Broadway Bound.

UPDATE - 10.31.2009: Brighton Beach Memoirs will close just one week after opening due to weak box office demand, thus scuttling the planned revival of Broadway Bound.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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At 26 October, 2009, Blogger Just Fun said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 26 October, 2009, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Tuhin, your advertising is disguised as a comment. Read #4 in the ground rules and you'll see that they are not tolerated.

At 27 October, 2009, Anonymous julie said...

I'm happy to find your blog. It's a great read and I bow to your amazing ability to see practically everything and find the time to write about it! Bravo!

At 27 October, 2009, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Thanks Julie, and thanks for introducing me to your blog, too! What a fun read!

At 29 October, 2009, Blogger Esther said...

I definitely agree with everything you've said, especially about Laurie Metcalf. I only knew her from the TV show "Roseanne" and I was blown away by her performance. Absolutely a complete triumph. As I told her at the stage door, she's an awesome Jewish mother!

This is a great revival that brings out Simon's humor but also the warmth. Cromer moves the action seamlessly from the funny parts to the more serious ones. As someone who grew up with two Jewish parents, Brighton Beach Memoirs truly resonates.

I loved it and I can't wait for Broadway Bound!

At 29 October, 2009, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Thanks for your comments Esther. You don't have to be Jewish to appreciate this glorious, heartfelt production.

As for Laurie Metcalf, she was the impetus in spurring my personal involvement in Steppenwolf. As I detailed here and here, I saw her years ago in a production of Bruce Norris' haunting Purple Heart that lingers with me even today. She's a brilliant actress and fortunately for Steppenwolf, she's also one of their ensemble members.

At 29 October, 2009, Blogger Esther said...

Good point, Steve - you don't have to be Jewish to appreciate this family's humor and hopes and struggles and I adjusted my review to indicate that.

I will check out those Laurie Metcalf links! I remember you praising her work in the past but until I saw with my own eyes - wow! Now I really understand!


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