Honors College students take stage with 'Brighton'
The crammed living room of Slonaker House is a far cry from a stage, but students of the UA Honors College are embracing that challenge this weekend with an amateur production of “Brighton Beach Memoirs.”
The Neil Simon comedy is a play about a seven-member family forced to live under one roof in Depression-era America. Personalities clash and comedy ensues as the Jerome family squirms to find equilibrium in its working-class Brooklyn home.
“Many of my plays [deal] with people being dumped together in a confined space,” Simon told the New York Times in 1983.
“Brighton Beach Memoirs” made its Broadway debut that same year with Matthew Broderick, still a couple years from his “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” days, portraying the play’s protagonist, Eugene Jerome.
Chloe Loos, a freshman honors student and director of the college’s upcoming production, said the student actors really understand both the seriousness and ridiculousness of Simon’s text. With rehearsals only beginning in early March, Loos said that the production had its share of predicaments trying to stage a two-act show in a furnished living room. Entrances and exits had to be re-imagined, but students said that the natural wit of Simon’s writing was not sacrificed.
“I see a lot of my own family,” said Alexandra Totillo, an undeclared freshman.
Totillo will play Kate Jerome, whom she describes as a stereotypical mother with a temperament for nagging and domesticity.
As Eugene’s manically obsessed mother, Totillo said she drew a lot of quirks and traits from her own family experiences. A scene of confrontation concerning the Jerome’s Thanksgiving dinner is one of the great comedic climaxes of the play, Totillo added.
“Brighton Beach Memoirs” is the first installment of a theatrical trilogy that chronicles the journey of Eugene from adolescence to adulthood. The character is rumored to be a reflection of Simon himself, who also grew up in New York City. Simon started out as a radio and television writer, rubbing elbows with comedic geniuses like Mel Brooks and Woody Allen. The theater gave him his first commercial success with his play “Come Blow Your Horn” in 1960, which he co-wrote with his brother Danny.
Since then, he has continued to imprint his wit on Broadway with successes like “Barefoot in the Park” and “The Odd Couple.”
After the death of his first wife in 1973, critics noticed a variable shift in his work that is seemingly more autobiographical.
“If you spread my career out like a map,” Simon said, “you can chart my emotional life.”
Local fans of Simon will be well advised to get to Slonaker House early on Friday and Saturday nights, as the Honors College production will only seat about 50 people. The show starts at 7 p.m. on both nights, and performances are free to the public.