You now that ol’ theater cliche “I laughed, I cried”?
As hackneyed as that groaner may be, it is so true with Stage Door Theatre’s production of “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” which is playing through June 30 at the Coral Springs theater.
Starring Matthew Broderick on Broadway in 1983, the Tony Award-winning show by playwright Neil Simon practically has eyes-brim-with-tears-part-goes-here and insert-guffaw-inducing-punch-line-there built into the DNA of the play.
And under the swiftly paced direction of Dan Kelley, the cast teeters and totters on the line between sepia-toned family warmth and melodrama meltdown. But it never falls, and it never fails.
Stage Door not only pulls off that tricky feat, they manage to do it with a little bit of panache, particularly with Sean McClelland’s perfectly scaled, two-tiered set and Ardean Landhuis’ sunny and lush lighting. The summation is an impressive juggling act of production and pathos over 2 1/2 hours with a 15-minute intermission.
Narrated by Simon’s stand-in, Eugene (Josh Lerner, an amazingly prepossessed actor for an upcoming junior in high school), the story centers on his large family and the travails they face in the late 1930s.
His mom, Kate (force of nature Merry Jo Cortada, who gingerly avoids stereotypes) holds the household together while his dad, Jack (Matthew Korinko, in a deftly controlled and compact performance), works two jobs to bring extra money in.
The family is strapped, because Kate’s widowed sister, Blanche (Elizabeth Simmons, who manages to pull off shy and indecisive without coming off as whiny and tiresome), has moved in with her two daughters, Laurie (Hannah Wiser, who holds up fine for a 12-year-old, particularly in the second act) and Nora (Mary Sansone, who gets that teenage yearning and moping just right). The only other significant breadwinner is Eugene’s older brother, Stanley (Alex Salup, navigating a tricky part in which one emotive slip-up could make the whole thing read as corny).
With the family on a financial precipice, the slightest miscalculation threatens to crash everything. Simon has also layered in long-buried resentments that ultimately break through and crack the solid family unit.
During one small, silent moment, it all gets to be too much for Kate, and she almost breaks down. There is more fine acting in that tiny dollop of time than you may see in a whole play elsewhere.
Doesn’t sound like a comedy, does it? Well, it isn’t, unless you consider that laughing through the tears enough to call something a comedy or that overused portmanteau “dramedy.”
There are some fine, dramatic moments when “Brighton Beach Memoirs” gets so real and so tense you may find yourself holding your breath. On the other hand, Eugene is flying blind through puberty, and a great deal of the play’s humor blossoms from that fertile ground. The advice Stanley imparts to his baby bro is a real hoot.
What this staging gets so right is mining into that sweet hurt that only family can inflict, and excavating the funny gems that lie there. It’s not easy work, but, oh, what riches it rewards.
IF YOU GO
Brighton Beach Memoirs
When: Through June 30; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. matinees Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays
Where: 8036 W. Sample Road, Coral Springs
Contact: 954-344-7765 or StageDoorTheatre.com
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