In Neil Simon’s wonderfully endearing 1983 semi-autobiographical dramedy Brighton Beach Memoirs, situations involving a report card, a first date, a tense dinner, a lost salary, a heartbreaking letter, and more poignantly arise as remarkably presented by the Human Race Theatre Company at the Loft Theatre.
Splendidly directed with captivating realism by Marya Spring Cordes and set in 1937 Brooklyn, Brighton Beach Memoirs finds Simon borrowing from the best. As the relatable, fussy and close-knit Jerome family deals with sacrifice while their patience wears thin in cramped quarters (Dan Gray’s outstanding two-story set oozes intimacy in spite of its size), Simon’s comedic sensibilities are expectedly substantial from colorful talk of liver and cabbage to the glories of baseball and raging hormones. Still, it’s easy to recognize the folksy ferocity and poetic beauty of Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller and Lorraine Hansberry when the compelling story shifts to dramatic conflicts centered on workplace woes, sibling turmoil, health concerns, financial burdens, and the growing possibility of additional family members abroad arriving at a moment’s notice to escape the Nazis. Over the course of a breezy three hours, Cordes handles Simon’s delicate balancing act with seamless finesse, allowing for fascinating sequences when certain characters are not the central focus. In fact, some of the most expressive interplay occurs upstairs while the main action transpires below. Cordes’ cinematic mastering of the seen and unseen – having an actor pause in a hallway, creep downstairs to assess commotion, or quietly contemplate alone in a bedroom – fuels the production’s genuine look at a blended family constantly in motion.
The charming Eric Deiboldt truly radiates as 15-year-old Eugene, Simon’s lively alter ego and the familiar catalyst of his Eugene Trilogy (including Biloxi Blues and Broadway Bound). Using his spunky physicality to the utmost while displaying marvelous narrative skills and command of Simon’s intricate rhythms, Deiboldt exuberantly engages as Eugene’s pivotal coming-of-age twists and turns. As Eugene’s restlessly discontented older brother Stanley, the handsome and impressive Richard Buchanan vulnerably conveys Stanley’s uncertainty of his place in the world as he faces the responsibilities of adulthood. An emotional Lisa Ann Goldsmith fiercely inhabits the headstrong Kate, a stern matriarch blessed in the present but bruised by the past. The terrific Rory Sheridan is equally strong as Jack, the hardworking patriarch who values the importance of family and desperately tries to keep his intact, especially in a tear-jerking scene in Act 2. Sonia Perez brings lovely complexity to her portrayal of Blanche Morton, Kate’s widowed sister still trying to navigate life and parental obligations while longing to break free and start anew all the same. The vibrant Katie Sinicki, a Wright State University junior acting major, offers a breakthrough portrayal of Blanche’s feisty daughter Nora, particularly shining opposite Perez in a heated, Gypsy-esque showdown that never resorts to overblown melodrama. Oakwood High School student Julie Murphy also delights as Nora’s sickly sister Laurie, an introverted bookworm and the only underwritten role in the play which is odd considering the depths of the other characters. Nonetheless, this show is perfectly cast and the Human Race should honestly consider reuniting Cordes and her actors for Broadway Bound in the 2019-2020 season.
In addition to Gray’s set, a character of its own, the production is artistically bolstered by David Arevalo’s attractive period costumes ranging from casual adolescent attire to snazzy evening wear, John Rensel’s expertly mood-capturing lighting, Jay Brunner’s first-rate sound design and enjoyable original music, and Heather Powell’s nifty properties including an authentic sewing machine.
A widowed schoolteacher once reminded a group of inquiring ladies to cling very close to those you love. Considering the nation’s current chaotic climate, specifically families breaking apart by their own free will or through government decree, Brighton Beach Memoirs, an All-American defense of immigration, is suddenly more relevant than ever before. “The world doesn’t survive without families,” Kate declares. See for yourself why she’s right, and in doing so, you’ll experience one of the best productions in Human Race history.
Brighton Beach Memoirs continues through April 22 at the Loft Theatre of the Metropolitan Arts Center, 126 N. Main St., Dayton. Performances are 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings; 7 p.m. Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesdays evenings; and 2 p.m. Sunday matinees. There will be a post-show talkback after the April 15 performance. Act One: 85 minutes; Act Two: 70 minutes. Tickets are $35-$40 for adults; $32-$37 for seniors; and $17.50-$20 for students. Prices vary depending on performance date and seating location. There are a limited number of $12 and $25 side area seats available for each performance. For tickets or more information, call (937) 228-3630 or visit www.humanracetheatre.org or ticketcenterstage.com.