Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

March 31, 2008

Brighton Beach Memoirs

Theater Guild, Hampden, MA
Weekends through April 5
March 29, 2008
By Donna Bailey-Thompson

Although this warm, funny, problem-ridden family play is set in September 1937, there are similarities with today’s vicissitudes and the inevitable maturations of human nature. Still mired in The Great Depression, the Brooklyn family has reconfigured their living space to accommodate recently widowed and destitute Aunt Blanche (Kathleen Epaul) and her two daughters, young Laurie (Angelina Cavallini) and impatient teen Nora (Christine Arruda). Because Hitler has shredded the Treaty of Versailles and positioned his army to invade Poland, concern for their European relatives and keeping a roof over their own heads beset the mother and father of the household – Kate (Patricia Colkos) and Jack (Jonathan Trecker). Their two sons, young adult Stanley (Dan Tapper) and teenager Eugene (Michael Piel) are wrestling with their own rites of passage. Shepherding this cast is Mark Giza, director, whose vision as founder of the Theater Guild of Hampden is not sabotaged by negatives.

Consider the L-shaped set designed from space stolen from the Hampden Country Club’s dining room. The approximate six foot depth of the staging supports an outdoor porch at right angle to an interior that includes a hallway, two bedrooms, dining and living rooms, furnished with tables, a console radio, easy chair, settee, upright piano, sewing machine, and more, in which seven actors inhabit as a family to bring Neil Simon’s semi-autobiographical play to life.

Michael Piel as Eugene chronicles the family’s events with a stage presence generously endowed with aplomb. There is no mistaking Eugene’s self-absorbed anguish and wonder about advancing puberty. The hilarity this awareness engenders evokes Philip Roth’s classic, "Portnoy’s Complaint." Compared to 1937, now formerly naughty French postcards are benign.

As the no-nonsense mother, Colkos is appropriately stressed by running a house bursting at its seams. As the exhausted father working two jobs to support the family, Trecker’s performance is reminiscent of a physically worn out Willy Loman but unlike Willy, Jack has a philosophical overview who gently guides those who come to him for advice. The love emanating from the parents is that intangible glue that keeps the disparate souls anchored as a family.