Review: Brighton Beach Memoirs – take advantage of second chances

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If you missed the recent production of Brighton Beach Memoirs at Vancouver’s Metro Theatre last month, fret not as you have another opportunity in an equally engaging production from Richmond’s Gateway Theatre.

Having just seen the Metro production of Brighton Beach Memoirs, I must admit to being a little apprehensive about seeing another version within a month.  I worried about the invariable comparisons that I would make and the risk of not being fully engaged with the lives of the Jerome-Morton clan having only just visited with the family.  But while I beg your forgiveness in maybe a couple of comparisons between the shows, I can unequivocally tell you that the lives of Eugene, Stanley, Kate and the rest of the family was just as engaging this time round as last.

For those that might need a recap, Brighton Beach Memoirs chronicles the Jerome family as seen through the eyes of 15 year-old Eugene, set against the backdrop of the depression and a looming second world war.  More concerned with baseball and more recently girls, life around Eugene is anything but easy and uncomplicated.  His father can barely keep a roof over their heads, the near-blind aunt and her two children add to an already over-crowded household and a mother desperately tries to keep everything together.

Gateway Theatre production of Brighton Beach Memoirs
The cast of the Gateway Theatre production of Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs.  Photo by David Cooper.

Where last month’s production of Brighton Beach Memoirs saw some great performances from the younger members of the cast, this Gateway production sees the adults leading the way.  And while accents seemed to be a bit problematic and uneven, it did not get in the way of some beautiful moments.

In the strongest performance of the evening, Gerry Mackay as the patriarch Jack, showed us both sides of the family head, internally worrying about how the clan will survive but outwardly exuding the optimism they need to carry on; indeed, late in act two, when he turns to the family and declares “it’s all right, everything is all right”, you believe him.

While perhaps a little angrier than I would have expected, Deborah Williams’ Kate captures the family matriarch trying to keep everything together despite the chaos surrounding her.  But it was in the second act confrontation with her sister Blanche (Sarah Louise Turner) that both women erupted in such a controlled and believable manner that was so much fun to watch.  Indeed, it was Turner’s night as she also had such a heartfelt scene with daughter Nora (Susan Coodin) and I found myself cheering her on as she came to the realization she needed to take some responsibility for her own lot, rather than simply relying on those around her.

But while this may have been adults’ night, that doesn’t mean the younger members of this cast lagged far behind.  High school student and graduate of Gateway Theatre’s Academy for the Performing Arts, Dylan Kruger does a good job in his dual role as narrator and the younger of the two Jerome sons.  While it did feel as if he was a little uncomfortable, especially in not knowing what to do with his arms and hands at times, Kruger was a great deal of fun to watch as the teen on the verge of manhood.  He and Daryl King, as the older brother Stanley, had a wonderful ease between them, making their relationship as brothers ultimately believable.  Susan Coodin as the young Nora, who Eugene has fallen so deeply infatuated with despite being his cousin, gives us a perfect balance in the highs and lows of the possibility of being a Broadway star.  Chloe Doucet-Winkleman completes the younger members of the cast with a nice performance as Laurie, despite her thinly drawn character.

For anyone that has read any of my previous Metro reviews, you know I am a huge fan of their set designs and its Brighton Beach Memoirs was no different.  I have now found their equal in the set design by Drew Facey in this Gateway production who gives us the Jerome family home with its frayed edges, mirroring perfectly the family dynamic on stage.

It’s not often that Vancouver area theatre-goers are given two chances to see the same show so close together.  If you missed the wonderful Metro Theatre production of Brighton Beach Memoirs last month, go see this Richmond Gateway production which is equally sophisticated and funny.  It will, again, leave you as fully satisfied in a way liver and cabbage never could.

4 Out of 5 Stars Brighton Beach Memoirs
Gateway Theatre, Richmond
7 – 23 October 2010

Tickets are $35-$43 available by calling 604-270-1812 or online.

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