The final line of Neil Simon's coming of age time Brighton Beach Memoirs rang all too sonorously this afternoon as the just-open production came to an untimely close. The show's producers announced last night that the show would end its run today and the currently rehearsing sister production of Brighton's sequel Broadway Bound (or not) would be cut short before going into performances. Not cool, producers.
Admittedly, I went into the performance with varying degrees of bias and pretense. On the one hand, I had nostalgic stock in the show having played the part of Laurie as a high school student. On the other hand, I had a sneaking suspicion that if the producers were so eager to close, there must have been something lacking. Also, and this is really neither here nor there, I was hiding several rows behind my roommate and his hot-to-trot boss, a certain cornerstone in the world of commercial theatre. When introduced to me she barely looked me in the eye and I was left outside alone to finish my cigarette while my friend allowed himself to be apologetically whisked away. What those fools didn't know is that I was sitting in front of Neil Simon himself. Yes, I am enough of a dork to recognize him.
What I found, despite all of the nonsense I had festering in my head and the overdose of Vitamin C I was popping throughout to counteract my impending cold, was a very much needed performance of sentimentality. This play is not extremely topical, dealing only very tangentially with the second World War, but it hits right on the mark in terms of presenting the "family" as it exists in the uniquely American melting-pot sense. Everybody is struggling and complaining, but everybody is supporting each other. Noah Robbins, in his Broadway debut as Eugene, never missed a beat: his timing was genius and he was the perfect amounts naive and snarky. Backing up Robbins was a generally "good" ensemble, none of whom particularly shone on their own save the fabulous Laurie Metcalf in the role of Kate, Eugene's mother. Although Eugene narrates, Kate is really this show's lynch pin and Metcalf played the hell out of the role.
My one glaring point of contention with this production was Alexandra Socha. I don't like her. She was horrible as Wendla when she replaced Lea Michele in Spring Awakening and she was horrible today. At least in Spring Awakening she wasn't trying to imitate a 1930's Brooklyn Jewish accent. She couldn't act her way out of a paper bag. Go back to drama school.
Brighton Beach Memoirs doesn't have much to offer beyond its ability to put a smile on your face. Arthur Miller really took the family setting of Simon's work and made it far more interesting, topical and high stakes with plays such as A View From the Bridge. However, that doesn't make it any less of a shame to see a perfectly formidable production of a delightful (and thoroughly American) play flop before really being given a chance to thrive. When the curtain fell at the end of the second act I turned around, momentarily contemplating thanking Mr. Simon for his work, but, like his play, he had slipped away almost as quickly as I had noticed his presence.