A Neil Simon dou­ble­header

Bran­don Ura­nowitz in “Broad­way Bound,” one of a pair of plays at the Old Globe.

Los Angeles Times - - Calendar - David C. Ni­chols from san diego cal­en­dar@latimes.com

The Old Globe scores an en­gag­ing dou­ble­header with Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Mem­oirs” and “Broad­way Bound,” tri­umphantly open­ing the 2010-11 sea­son. Un­der the per­cep­tive di­rec­tion of Scott Schwartz, a pro­fi­cient cast and a crack de­sign team make these open­ing and clos­ing chap­ters in the saga of Simon’s al­ter ego, Eu­gene Jerome, a re­ward­ing reper­tory ex­pe­ri­ence.

Ex­tend­ing Simon’s sub­text by hav­ing the same ac­tors por­tray the adults who in­habit both works, di­rec­tor Schwartz makes a per­sua­sive case for “Brighton” and “Broad­way” as con­joined fa­mil­ial me­mory plays. (The tril­ogy’s Tony-win­ning cen­ter­piece “Biloxi Blues” fol­lows Eu­gene through ba­sic train­ing as World War II ends, its own self-con­tained en­tity.)

Schwartz frames the ap­proach with each play’s Eu­gene ob­serv­ing his past-fu­ture self as snow falls on scenic de­signer Ralph Fu­ni­cello’s split-level homestead. This de­vice plays ef­fec­tively, as does Schwartz’s use of the aisles and author-ap­proved tweaks to shore up links be­tween the plays.

“Brighton Beach” is eas­ily the fun­nier prop­erty, for all its flashes of grav­i­tas. Set in 1937, the nar­ra­tive de­ploys pre­co­cious Eu­gene (the mar­velous Austyn My­ers) as en­voy to his fi­nan­cially stressed clan. They in­clude not just his fa­ther, Jack (the su­perb David Bishins), his mother, Kate (a rev­e­la­tory Karen Ziemba), and his older brother, Stan­ley (Sloan Grenz). There is also his mother’s tremu­lous wid­owed sis­ter, Blanche Mor­ton (Bon­nie Black) and her daugh­ters: nu­bile Nora (Al­lie Trimm) and car­dio­vas­cu­lar-chal­lenged Lau­rie (Ju­lia Van­der­wiel).

As Eu­gene shares his se­cret writ­ing am­bi­tions and burn­ing pubescent urges with preter­nat­u­ral aplomb and many one-lin­ers, his real-life proxy makes pert ob­ser­va­tions about sib­ling ri­valry, par­ent-child re­la­tion­ships and in­ternecine char­ity. De­spite a spate of over-tidy Act 2 res­o­lu­tions and some too-easy Jewishver­sus-gen­tile zingers, the cur­rent en­vi­ron­ment lends Simon’s plot turns a patina of rel­e­vance, from lost jobs and health crises to im­per­iled for­eign kin and reck­less en­list­ment.

“Brighton” em­braces hi­lar­ity and fam­ily sol­i­dar­ity as counter to global un­cer­tainty and eco­nomic duress. “Broad­way Bound,” though not with­out its laughs, takes an op­po­site tack. It’s 1949, and grown Eu­gene (Bran­don Ura­nowitz) and Stan (Joseph Parks), still at home but not for long, strive to be­come ra­dio sketch writ­ers. The Mor­tons have moved out and on, with well re­mar­ried Blanche now the char­i­ta­ble one. Add Ben Ep­stein (a spot-on Howard Green), Kate and Blanche’s un­demon­stra­tive Trot­skyite fa­ther, now liv­ing at the Jerome home and sep­a­rated from his wife.

Al­though Eu­gene and Stan us­ing their relatives as sketch fod­der has tick­ling as­pects, “Broad­way” is only marginally a com­edy, only nom­i­nally the boys’ story (though Eu­gene re­mains our em­cee). It’s re­ally about the par­ents, all of them, and af­ter Jack’s midlife cri­sis hits home with post-Odets force, “Broad­way” hits its cli­max in what may be the best sin­gle scene Simon has ever writ­ten. As Kate shares with Eu­gene the high point of her youth — a ball­room dance with Ge­orge Raft — the years and her stern fa­cade drop be­fore our eyes, mag­i­cally.

Schwartz lo­cates in­tent here that out­strips Simon’s rich but over­writ­ten script, com­poser Michael Hol­land’s un­der­scor­ing even more evoca­tive than in “Brighton.” The de­signs through­out main­tain the Globe’s high stan­dards, Fu­ni­cello’s de­tailed set a per­fect frame for Alejo Vi­etti’s re­al­is­tic cos­tumes, Matthew McCarthy’s split-sec­ond light­ing and Paul Peter­son’s fo­cused sound.

With all due credit to orig­i­na­tor Matthew Brod­er­ick, the elfin My­ers is the most con­vinc­ing teen Eu­gene we’ve seen, stel­lar far be­yond his years. He ide­ally matches up with Ura­nowitz’s saucy-sin­cere adult ver­sion, and though Grenz and Parks don’t equate quite so purely, they are both fine, fer­vent and funny. Black some­times attacks Blanche’s beats more tech­ni­cally than nat­u­rally yet seems cer­tain to only deepen as the run pro­gresses. Green swipes ev­ery scene; Trimm and Van­der­wiel are ex­actly right.

Above all, Bishin’s im­plod­ing gruff­ness and ten­der­ness jerks tears and laughs at once, in to­tal align­ment with the al­ways-won­der­ful Ziemba, whose in­wardly mo­ti­vated char­ac­ter­i­za­tion is enor­mously af­fect­ing and true — a ca­reer-best turn. So sen­si­tive a level of in­vest­ment is typ­i­cal of what makes this re­source­ful dou­ble bill such a sat­is­fy­ing achieve­ment.

Henry DiRocco

Henry DiRocco

BROTH­ERS: Sloan Grenz plays Stan­ley, left, and Austyn My­ers is Eu­gene in “Brighton Beach.”

GROW­ING PAINS:

Bran­don Ura­nowitz plays Eu­gene in Neil Simon’s “Broad­way Bound.”

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