Metro’s “Brighton Beach” a charmer

I was fortunate enough to attend last night’s opening of Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs” at the Metro Theatre, and I can happily report that it’s a charming, funny – and surprisingly moving – evening of theatre.

I hadn’t seen the play or the movie before, but knew it was based on Simon’s life as a teenager in 1930’s Brooklyn. That had to mean a quirky and colourful Jewish family, and as a “member of the tribe” I was both eager and, I confess, a little wary. The Metro is certainly branching out well beyond British drawing-room fare, but this was a particular cultural dish they were cooking up – they may have Simon’s recipe, but would they achieve that authentic flavour?

I can safely say that for the most part they did, from the Menorah on the dining-room sideboard to the mostly-consistent New Yawk accents, to the loving but somewhat neurotic characters. And with those qualities in place, the comedy – and later the emotional drama – of the piece was able to shine through.

The entire troupe does a fine job here, but I must specifically point out the young cast members, starting with Cormac O’Dwyer as Eugene Jerome. He has great presence, naturalism and timing, and easily holds his own in a demanding role as the anchor of the piece.

Josh Zumstien was also a standout as Jerome’s older brother, Stanley. His bravado, his anxieties, and his conflicted but always caring relationship with his younger brother felt completely authentic.

Elizabeth Holliday and Paige Dean were also memorable as Eugene’s cousins Laurie and Nora.

The adults also were appealing and engaging. While one doesn’t want to see actors edge into caricature, I sometimes felt during the first half that the strong personalities of the characters weren’t coming through as much as I’d hoped; but as the story became more serious and emotional, they seemed to settle more strongly into their characters. By the final part of the play I was completely riveted and more than a little surprised to find tears rolling down my cheeks!

So in short, this is a fine production with many strengths, lots of laughs and an emotional undertone that makes for a very satisfying evening of theatre. By all means check it out if you can!

Brighton Beach Memoirs runs Thursday-Saturday through September 25. More info and tickets at the Metro Theatre website.

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