Review: ‘Brighton Beach Memoirs’ kicks off new season of MTSU theatre

Photo and Story by Ahmad Thomas / Contributing Writer

Entering the auditorium, a dim light caresses the face of an open home as soft tunes of the late ’30s smoothly kiss your eardrum. Anticipation grows for the 7:30 curtain, and as it rises, a young boy throws a ball at the wall as if he’s practicing for the big leagues.

“Brighton Beach Memoirs” is set in a single household, complete with doorways alluding to other rooms, bedrooms, a living room, an upstairs and a front porch, a fitting setting for a story about the development of a family sewn together by the twine of fate.

Eugene Morris Jerome, played by Jay Mullens, is a hopeful, wacky, big-hearted 15-year-old who is eager to impress his family. He lives in Brighton Beach with his mom, dad, brother and widowed aunt, along with her two daughters, and Eugene has a unique relationship with each character. The actors did well portraying this chemistry.

The play engaged the audience with constant energetic humor, which sometimes made you think twice just to be sure the actors said what you thought they said. The first act was pure enjoyment, although it suffered minor lapses regarding the actors’ lines. By the time intermission rolled around, the audience was left with a hunger for more — or perhaps just a hunger for concession stand treats.

Interestingly enough, the second act deviated from the original trajectory of the play, opting to dig into a more serious tone by settling issues mentioned in the first act, which initially passed as jokes.

Just as a pot of unattended boiling water would boil over, so did the emotion. The memoir masseuse, Eugene, stealthily relaxed the minds of the audience, though, from the imminent family stress with his puerile quips.

The second act was full of emotional moments, and they were truly inspiring and felt completely organic. For example, the struggle that Jack, played by Johnathan Carter, faces trying to feed and clothe seven humans, and the fear that Kate, played by Cindy Fox, experiences dealing with the health of her husband and the steady deteriorating family structure are all too relatable.

Jack’s character felt somewhat stale at times, but a heavy-handed impersonation of the idol was exactly what the audience needed.

While Eugene experiences a world of changes in both his daily life and the lives of those surrounding him, he casually reminds us that what he’s going through is relatable to many boys his age.

Through all of “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” Eugene matures just as much as his family does. He not only realizes that his memoirs serve an important role as the recollection of a bittersweet time in his life, but he also grows intellectually, as does his family.

In concocting the play, playwright Neil Simon did not leave much to the imagination, and the MTSU theatre department were devout in conveying the jocularity spilled by Simon’s ink. In fact, the audience’s laughter only served as diesel fuel. It was apparent that the cast was experienced, and the dedication aimed toward the play was well spent.

Eugene may be telling a story from his own eyes, but there may be memoirs in all of us.

To contact Lifestyles Editor Tayhlor Stephenson, email lifestyles@mtsusidelines.com.

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