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North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre is currently producing Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs. Simon's plot structure tells a beautiful and hilarious story of a family in 1937 living in Brooklyn, NY. The production, however, lasts over two and a half hours and is filled with dragging scenes and broken conventions.
While there are some talented actors in the cast who bring hilarity and sincerity, the performances could barely compensate for the flaws.
From the top of the show, the actors gave contradicting conventions. Lisa Binion, who plays Kate Jerome, tried to create the illusion that Leo Brody, who plays her son Eugene Jerome, was actually outside by yelling to the outside door. Brody responded by looking directly at Binion, thus shattering the wall that she was attempting to create for us. I was again pulled out of the play by the same two actors when Binion showed that boxes holding heavy items were, in fact, not heavy at all. The director, Beth Brody, should have caught these contradictions. I do not mean to deride these two actors, for they were actually two of my favorites: Leo Brody has a promising future in theatre and Lisa Binion has a decade's worth of credits.
After a dinner scene I could have sworn there was another person in the household. I kept counting actors on the stage trying to figure out who was in the kitchen making the sound of plates clanking. The convention worked for awhile until all of the actors were out on stage and the clanking continued. Simply, backstage noise was a problem. Furthermore, I could clearly hear the voice of an actor laughing and talking through a black curtain backstage. (So try to not sit house left.)
The entire play has five settings – the dining room, the living room, the front porch, the boys' room, and the girls' room. The bedrooms took the place of the living room as the scenes changed (what felt like over a dozen times). Though I could try to focus on the scene in the dining room while the living room furniture was being moved out, the transition was very distracting. At least the transitions weren't made between scenes because then we would have been there another half hour.
The intimate two person scenes where sister related to sister, brother related to brother, and father related to son were the most enjoyable in the production. Neil Simon's portrayal of serious times with his lighthearted, bawdy humor makes for a beautiful piece that draws in audiences.
When I stood up to exit the theater after the show, I caught the comment of a girl sitting next to me. She said that she loved what she had experienced and she wanted it to keep going. While I feel differently, I feel obligated to say that some people in the audience truly did enjoy this production.
Brighton Beach Memoirs runs through March 27 at NRACT with evening shows on Friday and Saturday and Sunday matinees. For details, see the sidebar.