If the view from under the Brighton Beach el is not quite today's world vision, it offers a nostalgia trip to the late 1930's that is worth glimpsing, especially through Neil Simon's round lenses. The subject of Brighton Beach Memoirs, directed by David Cromer, is a budding writer's coming of age.
Eugene Morris Jerome, a stand-in for the playwright played by Noah Robbins, a young actor who somewhat resembles Adrien Brody if he were a nerd, narrates the story of his family as he, post-Bar Mitzvah, still home, ventures toward young manhood. He is aided along the way by parents at a time when father knew best, and mother, worried and fed her brood-as fits their economy, liver and lima beans. From an upstairs bedroom in the two-story house, a set beautifully designed by John Lee Beatty, Eugene's brother Stanley (in an excellent performance by Santino Fontana) coaches his younger brother in the fine arts of masturbation and voyeurism, particularly centered around their cousin who along with her mother and sister is now living with them.
A war on the other side of the world threatens to provide them with yet another set of relatives escaping Hitler, and you know that this household, though scrapping along between paychecks, would accommodate the expansion. The story follows the rhythms of each character, Eugene's widowed aunt, Blanche (performed winningly by Woody Allen veteran Jessica Hecht), the young sickly Laurie (Gracie Bea Lawrence) studying for her history test, her older sister Nora (Alexandra Socha) headed for Broadway, or probably not, as she goes out at all hours sporting red lipstick. Stanley, himself trying to figure out his next moment, may join the army, and while the upstairs bedrooms and porch provide places for family members to converse and conspire, all come together at the dinner table, where Eugene drops his napkin, the better to see what's under Nora's skirt, and where the others succeed or fail to speak their mind.
Overseeing all is Kate Jerome (a good Laurie Metcalf in a role made famous by Linda Lavin) whose illogical logic as mom, through Simon's one-liners and a lot of rolling eyeball, is often the butt and source of the play's abundant humor. You see the hardship of this quintessential Jewish mother in her calculated shtick. But you wish for more warmth, a heimish-je ne sais quoi quality in Jewish family life that is missing and necessary to make this batter leaven and rise. Needless to say, Eugene finally sees the peaks of the Himalayas. You may think you know what this means but see the play to get the full funny impact. In November, this revival will play in repertory with its sequel, Broadway Bound, and I for one can't wait.