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Westfield’s ‘Brighton Beach Memoirs’ is all grown up

Catherine Addington, a student at Bishop Ireton High School, reviews Westfield High School’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs” as part of The Cappies Critics and Awards Program.

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Adam Thomas, John Walsh, Phoebe Dillard, Emily Howell, Elisabeth Bloxam and Sarah Bowden from Westfield High School. (Photo by Charlie Gunn)

The economy is in the dumps. War looms overseas. And families are torn apart. Sounds like 2009, except it’s not. It’s 1937 Brooklyn. Westfield High School brings to life a family from another time and place in its production of Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs.”

Neil Simon’s coming-of-age play is the first installment of a semi- autobiographical trilogy about Eugene Morris Jerome that captures his troubled childhood, his stint in the Army and then his show business debut. Simon, an American playwright and screenwriter, has won many awards, including a Pulitzer Prize, a Golden Globe, several Tony Awards and the Kennedy Center honors. “Brighton Beach Memoirs” opened at the Alvin Theatre in Simon’s native New York in 1983 and recently had a brief Broadway revival.

Westfield’s production combined energy, comedy and chemistry. The cast energetically powered through the lighthearted, engaging first act and then, through the more serious, dramatic second act. The actors’ timing kept the audience laughing at each punch line. At the same time, the clear chemistry between the members of the Jerome family created a constantly intriguing family dynamic.

With a convincing New York accent, lead actor Kevin Clay took on the role of Eugene. Clay made it look easy and did comedic justice to Simon’s hilarious script. The production also required a strong commitment and emotional range from lead actress Phoebe Dillard, playing Eugene’s mother Kate. Dillard did not back down from the heartfelt dialogue while also keeping Simon’s comedy intact.

The supporting cast’s enthusiasm made up for some of the actors’ troubles in maintaining their accents and appropriate emotions. Adam Thomas, playing Eugene’s older brother Stanley, brought his character to life with vibrant physical acting and credible brotherly chemistry. Understudies added to the production through their hilarious walk-on roles. Deanna Hughes, for instance, nearly stole the spotlight with her spot-on Irish accent, as she played Mrs. Murphy.

Westfield’s technical elements, particularly the set and lighting, enhanced the show’s intimacy. When the curtain first went up revealing the set, one audience member’s whispered reaction said it all: “Oh, my!” Alex Butterfield and Annie Dykstra, who designed the set, paid close attention to the details. On the set, they had working electricity, black-and-white photographs of the cast members hanging on the walls and swinging doors. The lighting, headed by Andy Roca and Aria Velz, helped direct the audience’s attention on the elaborate set.

Westfield’s theatre department demonstrated that unlike Eugene, they do not need to come of age. They’re already there.

By Catherine Addington, Posted by Mario I. Oña  |  December 16, 2009; 9:54 AM ET
 | Tags: Cappies 2009  
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