Eugene (Bennie Glasner) has a problem; he’s growing up. And there’s nothing funnier than watching someone navigate the pitfalls of adolescence, especially if he’s doing it while making trip after trip after trip to the grocery store at the command of his mother (Kathleen Bosworth) Kate’s bellowing voice, suffering the torture of having a beautiful cousin (Kelli Kay) living under the same roof, or watching his father (Mark Maresca) work himself nearly to death keeping a roof over the family’s head, all with the dreaded liver and cabbage on their table.
Brighton Beach is arguably playwright Neil Simon at his satirical and comedic best. Premiered in 1983 to critical praise and adapted to film in 1986, this is the first in Simon’s Eugene trilogy and arguably his most well-rounded, balanced and enduring work. Those familiar with the film adaptation won’t be disappointed by the Players’ production. Glasner possesses Eugene’s hyper-adolescent energy and comedic angst and, perhaps just ironically, Mirriam Durrie-Kirsch’s version of Blanche is strikingly like the film version of her character.
Set in the Jerome household in 1937, seven members of this dysfunctional family zip about from room to room, constantly moving thru hallways and passages, the proverbial lifeblood of the play flowing smoothly through the beating heart that is Dick Johnson’s masterfully designed set. Everything from the intentionally malfunctioning bathroom doorknob to the soft glow of the front porch light welcomes visitors to the Jerome family home. Equally notable is Jim Diderrich’s lighting design, lending the story a flow of warmth and well-accented changes.
Simon wisely drew Eugene to lean sympathetically on the audience by narrating his insight and well-timed punch lines, while depending on his brother, Stanley (James Cluster), for advice on everything from family to girls. Cluster’s performance is one of the show’s finest. Even when he’s scandalously gambling away his whole paycheck or running off to join the Army, Cluster delivers Stanley’s integrity and world-weary strength with confidence and conviction, a perfect older brother to Eugene.
As an added bonus, Brighton Beach Memoirs is Simon’s time-tested wisdom at its finest, and there’s a lot of wisdom packed into this two-act play. There is also an old adage about trees falling in forests, and while the Conejo Players isn’t quite the size of the sequoia or redwood, it may as well be, as Simon’s excellent dialogue is at times delivered from actor to actor rather than projected to the back rows. Ultimately the onus falls on its direction, and I suspect will likely be righted in coming performances.
At one point Eugene sits on the porch, writing in a notebook, when his mother bellows his way yet again. When he tells her he’s busy writing, she retorts, “Well, write quietly!”
The Conejo Players deliver yet another delightful production as Simon’s writing still comes through loud and clear.
Brighton Beach Memoirs through Jan. 31 at Conejo Players Theatre, 351 S. Moorpark Road. 495-3715 or www.conejoplayers.org.