Theatre and Dance Department Presents “Brighton Beach Memoirs”

In the revival production of Neil Simon’s semi-autobiographical 1983 hit play “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” 15-year-old Eugene Jerome, played by Adam Brody ’14, struggles with adolescence and family conflict.

Set in the dawn of World War II in a post-Great Depression Brooklyn, NY, the play mixes elements of comedy and drama to present a charming and dynamic tale of the personal and interpersonal struggles of a young man. Interrupting the dramatic storyline with moments of his misadventures experiencing puberty and discovering sex, Eugene lightened the mood of the production considerably.

The show opens with a narration from Eugene, who discusses his passion for baseball and writing. Eugene also believes he receives unfair treatment from his Jewish parents, Kate, played by Jackie Murray ’13, and Jack, played by David McCullough ’13.

Eugene’s conflict is accompanied by that of his brother, Stanley, played by Hemang Kaul ’13, who is forced to choose between apologizing for standing up to his boss on behalf of another worker, or risk being fired. This moral dilemma forces Stanley to choose between supporting his family and doing the right thing.

“I very much liked [Kaul’s] interpretation of Stanley. I’ve seen him perform before in the Under the Bed performances, but there’s a huge difference between what I’ve seen Hemang do in the improvisational games versus in a full play,” said Theodore Perez ’16.

“His posture, his voice, his attitude, it really encompassed how I think Neil Simon meant the character to be. He did an incredible job taking words and making them a person, it was something I had never seen him do before and that he did an incredible job at it,” continued Perez, who had previously read the original play.

Friction in the family heightens when 16-year-old cousin Nora, played by Caroline Sambuco ’14, tries to convince her mother, Aunt Blanche, played by Susannah Hyde ’13, to let her leave high school in pursuit of a new life on Broadway. Aunt Blanche struggles with indecision.

“I liked the transformation of the characters from the beginning to the end,” said Nico Ciccia ’16. “Of all the characters, [Hyde as Blanche] and [Sambuco as Nora] captured [the character transformation] really well. The quirkiness of Adam Brody was really funny; he captured puberty and adolescence really well!”

The actors interacted skillfully with each other to craft a vibrant, but also strained family dynamic. Through subtle expressions, body language and tone, the actors captured years of complex relationships between their characters.

“Since I spoke to the audience, it was great to see their reactions and to have a discussion with the audience,” said Brody. “Eugene is such a fun kid. He’s such a character. His parents love him, and he loves his family, but they bicker. He’s learning about the world.”

In the midst of so much conflict, further strain is put on the family when Jack loses his second job selling party favors. However, the story reaches its climax when Kate and Aunt Blanche erupt into an argument rooted in years of unresolved tension.

After losing his salary in a poker game, Stanley abandons his family to join the army. Stanley’s decision results in a change of leadership within the family with Eugene taking charge.

“The person who played Kate, [Murray], was hilarious,” said Alana Gudinas ’16. “[She was] like every mother you would imagine, with all the nagging and stuff. I loved how one of the themes was selfishness. Everyone faces it, and you got to see it in action and how everyone reacted.”

The stage set evoked the cramped atmosphere of Eugene’s 1930’s New York City family home. Divided into two floors, the set featured a street wound along the edge of the stage, and the kitchen and the dining room on the first level. The second floor was divided into two bedrooms shared by the four children.

“The fact that every [part of the set] was connected also made watching the entire production fascinating; their movements to particular locations set the mood differently. For instance, the dining room had a different atmosphere than the boys’ room. It contributed to the overall cohesiveness of the play,” wrote Julia Kim ’14 in an e-mail to The Phillipian.

Students in THDA-320 learned about stage lighting under direction of Billy Murray, Instructor in Theatre. They coordinated the stage lights to dim and brighten during critical moments of the play to emphasize the gravity of the scenes.

“Working in Tang all term, we got to watch the play being literally built out of nothing. It was fun to be a part of the behind the scenes crew,” said Justin Appleby ’13, a student in Murray’s THDA-320. “We all got to sit down and individually dictate where the lighting of the stage drew the audience’s focus. Afterwards, while I was watching the play, I noticed the changes in light and how light corresponds to where the action is happening more than I ever would have before.”

The Theatre and Dance Department

spent two months preparing for the show under the direction of Kevin Heelan, Instructor in Theatre.

“I don’t have any previous acting experience, but I really respect Mr. Heelan, and I wanted to work with him,” said McCullough. “I want to try new experiences at Andover and take advantage of what the school has to offer. The best part of my character is that the [original] actor

looked just like George Clooney on stage!”

The actors began memorizing their lines over Winter Break and met on a daily basis for after-school rehearsals since the first day of Winter Term, said Kaul. To maximize rehearsal time, participation in “Brighton Beach Memoirs” served as athletic commitment for many members of the cast and crew.

“It was a great historical piece. I really felt in the moment, down to the details,” said Gabriel Braunstein ’16, a member of the audience. “I felt like the music in between the first and second acts as well as before the show was a great way to transport the audience to a different time, as well as vignette the whole play in the world of the 30s.”