Review: Brighton Beach Memoirs (Harold Green)

“Tight, well-acted, and deeply poignant” play now on stage in Toronto

If you’re in the mood for a coming-of-age classic, Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs is being put on by the Harold Green Theatre Company until June 10, 2018.

When I walked into the Greenwin Theatre with my friend Zack, we were immediately impressed by the beautiful set, a Depression Era home with two levels and every detail accounted for. It pulls you into the show, which is part of Neil Simon’s Eugene Trilogy: a semi-autobiographical series of plays covering the life of the famous playwrights’ surrogate, Eugene Jerome. Brighton Beach Memoirs is the first of the series, and it details events in Eugene’s teenage life.

Lawrence Libor’s performance as Eugene is fleshed out very well over the show’s two-and-a-half-hour runtime. The character is crass, obnoxiously selfish, and his lust is downright unsettling. At the outset, I saw Eugene, oblivious to the plights of his Jewish Depression-era family and lamenting over his incestuous crush on his cousin Nora (Kelsey Falconer), and I thought: “how am I going to sit through another two hours of this perverted little horndog?”

But as the show wore on, I remembered what it was like to be a teenager: so naïve and distracted by the rapid changes in your own life that you fail to understand or even notice the bigger picture around you. In Eugene’s case, he fails to see how the Great Depression and the impending war in Europe affect his Jewish family.

But we the audience see everything, and we understand the inevitable impact of the events playing out, often to the dismay of the other characters. The other members of Eugene’s family have different perspectives: David Eisner plays Jack, Eugene’s father, who’s concerned with news from Europe and whether his family will escape Poland. Meanwhile Kate, Eugene’s mother, is most concerned with Jack’s health and whether they can put food on the table for themselves, as well as her sister Blanche and her children.

And therein lies the beauty of Brighton Beach Memoirs. It’s a quintessential coming of age show that captures the naivety of youth. The Jewish themes don’t take centre stage, and my guest Zack remarked that this might make the show more accessible to a non-Jewish audience, though the two of us are Thornhill Jews to our core so I don’t think we’d be the best judges.

In a way, Brighton Beach Memoirs is reminiscent of something like Our Town to me, in that the style and feel of it is slightly outdated. I don’t think that Sheila McCarthy’s direction takes many risks or extends itself too much, and some Mooney readers seeking more exploratory theatre might not take to this show, but I really enjoyed it.

Brighton Beach Memoirs was tight, well-acted across the board, and deeply poignant. Across the board I was shocked by the quality of every aspect of this production. The actors all have decorated resumes, and the Greenwin Theatre is nicer that most you’ll see in the downtown core. This was a thoughtful, high-quality show and I would absolutely recommend trekking out to North York and giving it a watch.

Details

  • Brighton Beach Memoirs is playing at the The Greenwin Theatre (5040 Yonge St) until June 10, 2018.
  • Showtimes vary; check the schedule for specific dates.
  • Tickets are between $29-81.
  • You can buy the tickets online or at the front door.
  • Run time is 2h 45min.
  • Audience Advisory: Contains sexual content, crude language.

Photo of Umed Amin, Lawrence Libor, Nicole Underhay, Kelsey Falconer, and David Eisner by Joanna Akyol.

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