Sunday, April 26, 2015
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

‘Brighton Beach Memoirs’ generates good vibes

By
March 8, 2011 |

Craig Piaget gives a winning performance as 15-year-old Eugene in Neil Simon's "Brighton Beach Memoirs." Barry Wisdom/Courtesy photo

Davis is a university town, populated by tens of thousands of students whose childhood memories date from, oh, somewhere around the mid- to late 1990s. So before we get to reviewing Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs” — which opened at the Sacramento Theatre Company last weekend — perhaps it’s best to briefly glance back at the playwright’s career.

Simon broke into television in 1950, writing jokes for Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows.” That series went off the air in 1954, two years before this reviewer was born. Simon began a long string of Broadway comedies in 1961.

His best-known piece is undoubtedly “The Odd Couple” — about two guys living together, one neat, the other sloppy — which enjoyed a long Broadway run starting in 1965, and spawned a 1968 movie, followed by a TV series in the early 1970s, a TV movie spin-off, a second TV series in the 1980s, etc.

Simon even wrote a gender-inverted version (“The Female Odd Couple”) in 1986. The male and female versions of the play continue to enjoy something approaching life eternal on the dinner theater circuit.

Simon wrote many other commercially successful comedies that were turned into films — “The Sunshine Boys” (1972) being an example.

By the 1980s, he was living well on the royalties. But Simon also developed a hankering to be taken more seriously as a playwright, and he wrote a trilogy of semi-autobiographical plays, of which “Brighton Beach Memoirs” (1983) was the first.

The setting is Brooklyn in 1937 — with the Great Depression dragging on, and the Nazis on the rise in Europe. The play’s characters are all members of an extended Jewish family, with 15-year-old Eugene — bright, full of beans, fascinated by baseball and sexually curious — serving as the viewpoint character (and stand-in for Neil Simon as a teen).

It’s a family comedy, with tension rising between sisters Kate (actress Jamie Jones) and Blanche (Julie Anchor). Blanche’s husband has died, and money’s tight, so Blanche has moved in with Kate’s family, which is to say the house is too crowded.

Kate and Blanche both have kids verging on adulthood. Stanley (Eason Donner) has finished high school and has an entry-level job. Nora (Raelyn Torngren, who alternates with Abbey Williams-Campbell) is a 16-year-old, taking dancing lessons and dreaming of being in a Broadway musical. Laurie (Rachel Finerman, alternating with Lauren Metzinger) is the pig-tailed kid sister with a “heart flutter,” and pampered as a result.

As the play’s narrator, Eugene — played by Craig Piaget, an energetic (almost hyper) young actor who also works as a clown — is the natural center of attention. And he gives a winning performance, smirking and nervy, running to the store when his mom sends him to buy butter.

But there’s also a lot of quiet gravity to Matt K. Miller’s performance as Jack, the hard-working dad who’s working multiple jobs (to the detriment of his health) trying to feed his wife Kate, his sister-in-law Blanche, and their kids — in addition to mentoring his sons, and serving as surrogate father for his nieces. The man has a lot on his plate, and Miller makes the character credible.

There’s also good chemistry between Jones and Anchor as the two sisters. Ten years ago, these two actresses were typically cast as the female lead in many a comedy. But time marches on, and they’re now radiating middle-aged maternal charm, in addition to loving their spouse (or seeking a new love). This production is a very good vehicle for both of them.

In addition to playing Jack, Miller directed the play — with an assist from Sacramento actor/director Greg Alexander, who is the go-to-guy in these parts for well-delivered punch lines and physical comedy. It’s a good combination — the jokes just keep on coming, but at the same time Miller gets the play to speak to our own time, with several characters worried about losing their jobs in a sputtering economy, and struggling to keep food on the dinner table.

The teenagers-coming-of-age angle is also nicely handled, along with the loving (yet difficult) relationships between the teenage characters and the older generation.

Storm clouds gather periodically, as the threat of joblessness rears its head, and the teens get into conflicts, and Jack becomes worried that his relatives may not get out of Poland before the Nazis take control. But dark comedy is not Neil Simon’s thing — nasty arguments give way to sunny reconciliations, and the story moves on.

This is not to say that “Brighton Beach Memoirs” is a short play — at an hour and 20 minutes, the first half is as long as many new plays nowadays. All in all, the show runs about 2 1/2 hours — a standard length when Simon was a rising playwright in the 1950s and 1960s.

It’s now been nearly 20 years since Simon has written a certifiable hit (1993’s “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” being the most recent), but there’s still plenty to like in this local production of “Brighton Beach Memoirs.”

What: “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” presented by the Sacramento Theatre Company

When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 12:30 and 6:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through March 27

Where:  1419 H St., Sacramento

Tickets: $34-$46 general, $29-$41 seniors, $15-$20 students; (916) 443.6722 or (888) 4.STC.TIX, http://www.sactheatre.org

— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or (530) 747-8055. Comment on this story at www.davisenterprise.com

Comments

comments

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

     
     
    Davis team wins world robotics championship

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Nepal quake death toll exceeds 1,800

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2 | Gallery

    Spring storm delivers late rain, snow to Northern California

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    At the Pond: Plenty of pleasures in our bioregion

    By Jean Jackman | From Page: A3 | Gallery

    Pioneering organic chef presents her memoir Monday

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    Suspect in UCD assault arrested

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A4

    Dog park marks anniversary with cleanup

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    Rail-safety bill passes Senate committee

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    Free Family Bike Clinic set Sunday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Watch them in action

    By Julia Ann Easley | From Page: A5

    Stocks rise on tech earnings; Nasdaq adds to record

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A8

     
    Dodd speaks as part of public policy series

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A9

    We did it (together)!

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A10

     
    $2.72 million judgment ordered against Dollar Tree Stores

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A10

    UCD hosts bike auction Saturday, May 2

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11 | Gallery

     
    Fly Fishers to hear about advanced streamer tactics on Tuesday

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A11 | Gallery

    Bicycle activist will speak Monday at Hall of Fame

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11 | Gallery

     
    .

    Forum

     
    Study questions accuracy of tumor gene mapping

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

    New ways of giving locally and beyond

    By Marion Franck | From Page: B6

     
    Mayor’s Corner: A spirit of renewal permeates Davis

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A12

    More work to do for a safe Picnic Day

    By Our View | From Page: A12

     
    Tom Meyer cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A12

    Poker proceeds help youths

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A12

     
    Invest in water of the future

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A12

    Water, water everywhere?

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A12

     
    Anaheim, where The Force is with you

    By Sebastian Onate | From Page: A13 | Gallery

     
    .

    Sports

    Energy, fan-friendly happenings highlight UCD spring football game

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Blue Devil golfers capture CAL Invitational title

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

    Davis gets two baseball wins in two days

    By Spencer Ault | From Page: B1

     
    Grizzlies dominate young Blue Devils on Senior Night

    By Thomas Oide | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    UCD roundup: Aggies reach water polo semifinals

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2

     
    Blue Devil swimmers are up to the challenge

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2 | Gallery

    DHS softball struggles continue against Sheldon

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B12 | Gallery

     
    Babich brings the heat as DHS girls stick it to Oak Ridge

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B12 | Gallery

    .

    Features

    .

    Arts

    History comes alive in ‘The Sacramento Picture’

    By Derrick Bang | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    .

    Business

    Big Italian food, sports bar to fill Little Prague

    By Wendy Weitzel | From Page: A7 | Gallery

     
    Yolo County real estate sales

    By Zoe Juanitas | From Page: A7

    Davis Roots hires new general manager

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8

     
    Comcast announces speed upgrade

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8

     
    .

    Obituaries

    Valente Forrest Dolcini

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

     
    Whitney Joy Engler

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

     
    .

    Comics

    Comics: Sunday, April 26, 2015

    By Creator | From Page: B8