Bridge Drama present ‘Brighton Beach Memoirs’ by Neil Simon

Setting

Act 1: Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, New York. A September evening 1937.
Act 2: A week later in the evening.

Synopsis

Meet Eugene Jerome and his family, fighting the hard times and sometimes each other – with laughter, tears and love. It is 1937 in Brooklyn during the heart of the Depression and Eugene lives in Brighton Beach with his family. He is witty, perceptive, obsessed with sex and forever fantasising his baseball triumphs as star pitcher for the New York Yankees. As our guide through his “memoirs”, Eugene takes us through a series of trenchant observations and insights that show his family meeting life’s challenges with pride, spirit and a marvellous sense of humour. But as World War II looms ever close, Eugene sees his own innocence slipping away as the first important era of his life ends and a new one begins.

Cast

Eugene Sean Byrne
Blanche Mairéad Cummings
Kate Louise Wickham Dillon
Laurie Ailbhe Tierney
Nora Katie Connick
Stanley Cillian Tobin
Jack Paul Tobin

Crew

Director Pat Whelan
Lighting Ken Murphy
Sound Frank Ryan
Nick Whelan
Set Design and Decor Pat Whelan
Set Construction Pat Curran
Costume Denise Leahy
Hair and Make Up Sharon Carr
Mairead Cummings
Madeleine Flanagan
Stage Management Yvonne Murphy
Madeleine Flanagan
Accent Coach Paul Tobin
Stage Crew Liam Clancy
Pat Curran
Seamus Murphy
Davy O’Brien
Adrian Power
Kieron Ruttledge
Mairead Ryan
Michael Stafford
Myles Sunderland

About The Group

Founded in 1998, Bridge Drama is based in Castlebridge, Co. Wexford. The group have been competing on the Amateur Drama 3-Act Circuit for a number of years and highlights include winning the All-Ireland Confined Finals in 2009 with Geraldine Aron’s ‘Same Old Moon’, winning the RTE All-Ireland Open Finals in Athlone in 2016 and also the Ulster Finals that year with its production of Neil Simon’s ‘Lost in Yonkers’. In 2018, the group achieved third place in Athlone with Michael Cooney’s ‘Cash on Delivery’.

Summary of Adjudicator’s Comments

Introducing her adjudication of the last play in this year’s All-Ireland Drama Festival, Imelda McDonagh spoke about the prolific and acclaimed author Neil Simon. The writer of such classics as ‘The Odd Couple’ and ‘Lost in Yonkers’, at one time he had four plays on Broadway at the same time.
‘Brighton Beach Memoirs’ was premiered in 1983 and a movie version was made subsequently. It’s a semi-autobiographical work as we learn about an aspiring writer and his childhood in New York during the Depression era.
In this play, a “delicate balance between comedy and pathos” is required, the adjudicator noted. It’s a “moving portrait” of life in a fractious Jewish family in Brooklyn. There are light-hearted moments such as Eugene’s teenage reveries about girls but there is also the genuine anguish of good people enduring “economic hardship”. The dramatic integrity of the darker, more emotional second act needs to flow organically from the meticulous character-building of the first act.
Ms McDonagh said this group provided a “striking set”. Its height and upper levels brought the audience “right into the house”, with the central staircase a strong “focal point”. The furniture was “plain and functional” as was befitting for a family struggling to make ends meet.
The costumes featured “a lovely array of period details” while “subtle and unobtrusive” lighting exploited the contrast between the warm interior and the cool exterior areas.  The adjudicator did question if the baseball commentary was too long at the opening, but the jazz music at the start of Act 2 came in for favourable mention.
The Director (Pat Whelan) drew the audience into this “absorbing tale” about the impact of economic difficulties on this family. We saw a “rich tapestry of family life”, and the scenes in the bedrooms were praised for giving “a sense of eavesdropping”.
The accents were “strong and well sustained”, though there was a slight quibble about “projectional clarity” in some cases. Relationships were particularly strong: The tenderness of husband and wife and the vibrant sibling rivalry of the sons.
While Act 1 were subdued at times, the adjudicator wondered “if the comedy in Act 1 could have been sharpened” in order to “heighten the contrast” with the more emotional Act 2. Silences were very effectively used to underscore the growing turmoil and Act 2 was particularly engaging in the variety and authenticity of its shifting moods.
Turning to the acting performances, Eugene (Sean Byrne) was praised for the “terrific rapport” he had with the audience right from the start, and he fulfilled the narrator role with ease. When expressing his passionate interest in girls, “he captured the gaucheness of youth in a very natural way”.
Kate (Louise Wickham Dillon) was a “strong, matriarchal figure” and was “the glue that held the family together”. In Act 2, displayed an “internalised anguish” which heightened her sense of being taken for granted by the family.
Blanche (Mairéad Cummings) was “tense”, “a worrier”, and an “ineffectual decision maker”. But we saw a transformation in Act 2 in her growth towards independence.
Laurie (Ailbhe Tierney) gave a “sincere and understated” performance and was “focused and committed” throughout. Blanche’s other daughter, Nora (Katie Connick) captured the “idealistic desperation, the sulky anger and the heartache of the lonely child”.
Stanley (Cillian Tobin) was praised for the way he “inhabited” the stories about his troubles – from the threat of being sacked from his job to losing money at poker. The misery, anger and regret he felt was “played with absolute conviction”, the adjudicator remarked, describing him as an actor who knows how to “hold and control a scene”.
Jack (Paul Tobin) was “world weary” and this decent man doing his best “exuded kindness and wisdom”. He offered a reasoned appeal to his wife Kate and Blanche after the two sisters had their row in Act 2.
Overall, the adjudicator stated that this was a “subtle and engaging evocation” of the joys and sorrows of this Jewish family. Their story was told with “great sincerity” and we saw “life-affirming hope” when their troubles were faced and conquered.