Life-affirming play’s met with a ‘good laugh’

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Jamie Boyd, front, as Eugene. Photo: Helen Drum.

Theatre / “Brighton Beach Memoirs”, Canberra REP until August 15. Reviewed by LEN POWER.

AT the time of his death in 2018, the American playwright, Neil Simon, had written more than 30 plays. He has received more combined Broadway Tony Award nominations than any other writer and many of his plays have been successfully adapted to film.

“Brighton Beach Memoirs” is a semi-autobiographical play by Neil Simon, the first play in his Eugene trilogy. It precedes “Biloxi Blues” and “Broadway Bound”. The play premiered on Broadway in 1983 and ran for almost 1300 performances. It’s still the last non-musical play to run more than 1000 consecutive performances on Broadway.

Set in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn, New York, in September 1937, during the Great Depression, this coming-of-age comedy focuses on Eugene Morris Jerome, a Polish-Jewish American teenager who experiences puberty, sexual awakening, and a search for identity in the day-to-day interaction with his colourful family in an over-crowded and financially struggling household.

Director Karen Vickery has given the audience a production of great depth and attention to detail. The interaction of these family members is very real, American accents are convincing and sustained and the cast members display a deep understanding of the manners and morals of 1937 American culture.

Everyone on that stage gives a superb performance in this tightly-knit ensemble. Their comic timing is excellent and the performers can play the dramatic scenes equally well. There is even a tender moment late in the show that brought a tear to my eye.

The attention to detail is also apparent in the suitably cluttered and atmospheric period set by Chris Baldock. Anna Senior’s costumes for this working class family are perfect for the times.

The lighting design by Stephen Still and sound design by Neville Pye and Amelia Allarakhia are intricate but so subtly done – they add atmosphere without drawing attention to themselves.

Every one of the period props on that stage has been well-chosen and placed by Yanina Clifton, Michael Sparks and Antonia Kitzel.

If there’s ever a time where a good laugh is needed, this is it. Karen Vickery’s fine production of this very funny and life-affirming play provides comedy and drama equally. It’s so good to see superbly produced live theatre again!

Their first live play to open since the COVID-19 pandemic started in March, Canberra REP’s production is following a strict COVID-19 safety plan with restricted numbers of seats available. I felt very comfortable with the arrangements and audience members’ compliance on the night I attended.

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