Brainerd Community Theatre presents ‘Brighton Beach Memoirs’
Brainerd Community Theatre presents Neil Simon’s classic coming-of-age comedy "Brighton Beach Memoirs" in the Chalberg Theatre in Brainerd in October and November. The bittersweet play is part of the Central Lakes College Performing Arts Series.
BRAINERD — Growing up, as anyone can tell you, can be rough.
Growing up in a house and with a family like the one in Neil Simon’s classic “Brighton Beach Memoirs” can also be bittersweet and funny.
“It’s a very popular play,” said Cory Johnson, director of Brainerd Community Theatre’s production. “Neil Simon is the consummate comedic writer of the 20th century and just died a couple of years ago, so he left quite a legacy of shows.”
The community theater’s production is part of the Central Lakes Community Performing Arts Center lineup. Performances of Simon’s coming-of-age comedy are at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 26, and Thursday, and Nov. 1-3 at the Chalberg Theatre at Central Lakes College in Brainerd.
“I've done a number of his plays,” said Johnson, a theater instructor at the college. “The last time I did this production was, I believe, in 2017 or 2018 at a professional theater called the Mississippi Bend Players in Rock Island, Illinois, right on the Mississippi.”
“Brighton Beach Memoirs” is a semi-autobiographical play, the first in a trilogy centered on Eugene Morris Jerome, who also appears as a character in Simon’s “Biloxi Blues” and “Broadway Bound.” The feature film adaptation of “Brighton Beach Memoirs” came out in 1986.
“I have not watched it since,” Johnson said. “I remember really enjoying that. But I have not watched it since because I know that movies are so much different than live plays, and I don't want to try to replicate one and kind of shoehorn it into another medium.”
Described by its admirers as “funny” and “poignant,” the play premiered on Broadway on March 27, 1983. Matthew Broderick was cast as Jerome. The actor went on three years later to play the title character in the classic comedy “Ferris Bueller's Day Off.”
“In Brainerd, this is the first show I've ever directed up here. I'm brand new to the area,” Johnson said of Brainerd Community Theatre’s production of “Brighton Beach Memoirs.” “It is a combination of college students and wonderful community actors.”
A synopsis of the play reads: “Dreaming of baseball and girls, Eugene must cope with the mundane existence of his family life in Brooklyn: formidable mother, overworked father and his worldly older brother Stanley.”
“That idea of coming of age and having dreams and desires — and dealing with, unfortunately, issues that are still in our world, of problems or issues with immigration and issues of bigotry — I don't think make the play dated at all,” Johnson said.
In “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” Jerome is a Polish-Jewish teenager in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn, New York, in September 1937 during the Great Depression.
“It's a very funny play, but it's got some deep roots and a real heart and talks about the struggles of some of the Jewish people getting out of Poland, and Neil Simon's family was from Poland and escaped the Holocaust,” Johnson said. “Some of his family didn't, but some of them did.”
Simon’s play does not shy away from discussions of puberty and sex, according to the producers of the play, so parents and younger viewers should be aware that “Brighton Beach Memoirs” contains profanity and discussions of mature subject matter.
“Without a doubt, the play is a comedy,” she said. “It deals with family issues and dynamics, sibling rivalry and financial struggles but all of this with deep and endearing love. The play ends with a hugely uplifting moment. And you leave with a smile on your face and tune in your heart.”
If you go
- What: “Brighton Beach Memoirs” by Neil Simon.
- Who: Brainerd Community Theatre.
- When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 26, and Thursday; and Nov. 1-3.
- Where: Chalberg Theatre, Central Lakes College, Brainerd.
- Cost: $15 for adults; $12 for seniors; and $10 for CLC students and those under 18.
- Info: Call 218-855-8199 or visit www.clcperformingarts.com.