The 2012 New York Yankees were facing their postseason rivals. But the 1937 Yankees were facing much tougher opponents—Eugene Jerome and his eccentric family in Neil Simon’s award winning comedy, “Brighton Beach Memoirs”.
Opening night’s performance brought bona fide talent onstage. Unlike some other troupes who merely recite the playwright’s lines, the actors of Rockaway Theatre Company brought each word and every nuance to believable reality. The audience responded to this sincerity with enthusiastic laughter.
Equally impressive was the solid set. Designed by lead actor Frank Caiati, it consisted of a 1930s main floor with a visible second floor. Several corridors and alleys added to the play’s Depression era realism.
Director Susan Warren Corning ably turns the angst of pre-World War II Brooklyn into a hysterically funny tribute to family loyalty. Her bag of tricks includes bringing out the actor’s comedic timing. This is especially evident with Caiati as puberty-puzzled Eugene, world weary patriarch Jack (Fred Grieco) and big brother Stanley (Stephen Ryan).
Caiati is very funny as Neil Simon’s wide eyed alter ego. His exaggerated confessions spoken directly to the audience, the facts-of-life lessons from his brother and his unabashed affection for his struggling family are a delight to watch. Both Grieco and Ryan’s characters provide both humorous and sympathetic portraits of the 1930s besieged male.
Practical but harried Kate (Lynda Browning) has her hands full keeping son Eugene’s hands out of the cookie jar while she compulsively plumps the sofa pillows. Her widowed sister Blanche (Jodee Timpone) is the “pretty one”. But she is more idealistic and less secure. They clash in Act II, temporarily toppling the family’s unity.
Blanche’s daughters Nora (Kimberly Simek) and Laurie (Jenna Tipaldo/Celine Ebert) have troubles of their own, living as unwilling boarders in the Jerome household. Simek shows visible anguish as her body trembles and she fights back tears during her confrontation with her overwhelmed mother.
Kudos to producer Susan Jasper, stage manager Nora Meyers, house manager Peggy Page and all of RTC’s behind the scenes support.
Located in Breezy Point, inside the Post Theatre at Fort Tilden, the show runs weekends through the end of the month. Call their hotline at (718)374-6400, surf to www.rockawaytheatrecompany.org or email RockawayTheatreCo@nyc.rr.com for more details.
The next production is “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” As always, save me a seat on the aisle.