My name is Derek.
And when I'm not busy ranting on my blog, in-this-economy.com, I love to go to the theatre. Seriously. I do.
(Yes, that was a shameless plug. Let's just pretend it didn't happen.)
The show I recently saw was Brighton Beach Memoirs at the Contemporary Theatre of Dallas and today I'm going to review it. Yeah, that's right.
Now I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Hey Derek, what in the heck is a Brighton Beach Memoirs?" Well, let me answer that for you.
Brighton Beach Memoirs is a (I apologize in advance for using this word:) dramedy by the almost-always-excellent Neil Simon about a Jewish family in New York. Over the span of the show's two acts this family experiences ups and downs as they encounter everything from financial concerns to the mounting uncertainty surrounding their family members overseas (it's 1937 so there's A LOT of uncertainty). It's some really solid material that celebrates the power of family through thick and thin.
Oh, and everyone in it has an awesome Brooklyn accent, which is great fun.
So what about this family? Who are they? Well the anchor of the show is Eugene Jerome. He's the dude writing the memoirs mentioned in the title and he serves as the narrator throughout. In this production he is played by Andrews W. Cope who has, in my opinion, never been better.
And let me just take a second to say that I've known Mr. Cope for around 17ish years now and I've seen him act in A LOT of stuff, so for me to say that he's never been better is high praise.
But setting all personal history aside, Mr. Cope seems at ease in the role of Eugene. He completely nails the comedy bits (his conversations with his onstage brother about sex and masturbation absolutely killed when I was there) and gives respect to the heavier moments as needed. He came close a few times to pushing Eugene's antics to an uncomfortably over-the-top place (like when he shouted a few lines using one of the finest accidental Gilbert Gottfried impressions I've ever heard) but always managed to bring it all back down to Earth at the right moments.
Mr. Cope is surrounded by an immediate family of equally strong performances. There's his father Jack, who is played to perfection by Doug Jackson. Mr. Jackson reeks of professionalism (that's a good good stink), and from the moment he trots onto the stage you believe every fatherly piece of advice that comes out of his mouth. Eugene's mom, Kate, is played by Cindee Mayfield with a believable level of motherly freaked-outedness. She spends most of the show being stressed out about one thing or another and Mrs. Mayfield manages this burden really well. Eugene also has a brother named Stanley who is played by Will Christoferson. Aside from one ridiculous sequence where he inexplicably put on four cardigans before running away from home (he looked like the Michelin Man... I was laughing during what should have been a very serious scene), Mr. Christoferson did a great job working as a straight man to Mr. Cope's bouncing ball.
The other three characters in the show are Eugene's aunt and her two daughters. The aunt, Blanch, who is played here by Diane Worman, was my least favorite character in the show but still worked as a suitable foil to Mrs. Mayfield's just-about-to-break Kate. Overall the role of Blanch is a tough one and Mrs. Worman's bizarre Brooklyn-meets-Dallas accent didn't do her any favors in tackling it.
And who knows... maybe the recent loss of Rue McClanahan has tainted my feelings about all other Blanch's for a while. Yeah, probably not.
The two nieces, Laurie and Nora, were played by Jourdan Stein and Marla Jo Kelly. Ms. Stein did a fine job playing the sickly Laurie and Ms. Jo Kelly did a fine job being really, really attractive. Wait... what? I need to stay focused here. Ms. Jo Kelly did a great job taking what can easily become an overly angsty role and giving it the right balance of emotion. Marla (can I call you Marla?) also brought out the best in Mrs. Worman's Blanch, which was great to see. Oh, and Marla was also really hot...
... STAY FOCUSED, DEREK! BE PROFESSIONAL!
As a whole, under the direction of Michael Serrecchia, the cast meshed together awesomely and I believed that this group of actors could really be this family. They really had me convinced at times. The show dragged a bit in the second act as the comedy/drama balance started to favor the drama side, but overall the whole thing felt smooth.
As for the set, it was quite the behemoth, spanning the entire stage from top to bottom. It had a lived-in, authentic vibe that I loved. It was a great eighth character in the show.
So, in summation, Brighton Beach Memoirs at the Contemporary Theatre of Dallas is a great production of a great show. The performances range from good to great and the emotional range of the material will have you laughing one second and choking up the next. It's powerful stuff that the CTD treats with the perfect level of respect. Go see it.
It's playing for the next two weekends (check the full schedule here) so make sure you check it out before it's gone.
BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS at the Contemporary Theatre of Dallas
For more information or tickets go to www.contemporarytheatreofdallas.com or call 214.828.0094.
Regular performances Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m.