Admittedly, I don’t know very much about the inner workings of a 15-year-old boy’s mind, so “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” currently playing at Alhambra Theatre & Dining, offered some compelling — and hilarious — insight.
The semi-autobiographical play written by Neil Simon, focuses on Eugene Jerome, a precocious teen growing up during the 1930s, who longs to be a writer, and spends much of his time fantasizing about playing baseball for the New York Yankees — and about his 16-year-old cousin Nora.
Eugene (Evan Gray) lives in quaint home in Brighton Beach, New York, with his parents Kate (Hillary Hickam) and Jack (Robert Herrle), his 18-year-old brother Stanley (Cameron Hale Elliott), his Aunt Blanche (Stacey Harris) and her two daughters, Nora (Kelly Wolfe) and 13-year-old Laurie (Emma Decker), who suffers from heart “flutters.” Eugene narrates much of the play from his perspective, including what he perceives as constant nagging and disapproval from his mother and his burgeoning interest in girls, especially his pretty cousin.
The real centerpiece of the story, however, isn’t Eugene’s experiences and thoughts, but the delicate balance of the family dynamic, such as juggling feelings of responsibility, financial turmoil, past hurts and an unknown future with unconditional love and dedication to each other.
Eugene’s dad Jack works himself almost to death to take care of the family financially, but still manages to offer helpful advice, compassion and words of wisdom, while mom Kate feels responsible for everything running smoothly in the home, even as she often feels overwhelmed and unappreciated.
The actors in Alhambra’s performance did a spectacular job with their roles, from the spot-on New York accents to displaying the genuine emotion of a family enduring misfortune while maintaining love and devotion for one another. The costume and set design felt authentic and conveyed the proper time and place.
Gray, who plays, Eugene, is a perfect fit, looking and acting every bit the energetic, curious and whimsical 15-year-old protagonist. Hickam also has a standout performance as the beleaguered Kate, whose obvious stress and worrying is balanced by her inner resolve and family devotion.
In between Eugene’s generally humorous personal commentary, were some truly heartfelt and heartbreaking moments, including Kate’s built-up resentment toward her widowed sister, Blanche’s indecisiveness and loneliness, Stanley’s fear and pain of disappointing his parents and Nora’s feelings of abandonment after the death of her father.
By the end, I felt I did get to see into the mind of a 15-year-old boy (scary), but, more importantly, I felt like I got to be part of the Jeromes’ resilient, wonderful family