By Diana Saenger
Last season's Old Globe hit production of Neil Simon's classic play "Lost in Yonkers" charmed audiences for weeks. More of Simon's noted work takes to the Old Globe stage when the tales of the Jerome family during the 1937 Depression, and again 12 years later, unfolds in "Brighton Beach Memoirs" and "Broadway Bound." The plays open on Sept. 14 and will be performed in repertory.
"Brighton Beach Memoirs" explores the world of young Eugene Morris Jerome. It's only natural for a Brooklyn kid to dream about playing baseball one day. So how does he fit in time for girls. dealing with an overbearing mother, an overconfident brother, and an overworked father?
Eugene finds that writing offers an escape to his reality and something worth pursuing as a future.
"Broadway Bound" takes place 12 years later.
Childish dreams have been put aside, but indeed Eugene is working as a writer. When he and brother Stanley are hired as radio writers, they want to write comedy and think nothing of using real-life situations from home as material for their shows. But in between the chuckles, Simon peppers his semi-autobiographical play with pragmatism and a sentimentality that feels very late '40s-appropriate. The boys soon discover some of the best comedy comes from their humorless family. Oh how they long to move out!
Scott Schwartz, who directed last season's hit production of "Lost in Yonkers," directs both productions — rehearsing one of them one day, the other the next.
"It's a big undertaking," Schwartz said. "But I feel they are really one big play, because we follow the characters from one play to the other, only 12 years later and, we see the culmination of the relationships."
Some of the cast members who perform in both plays include Karen Ziemba as the boys' mother Kate Jerome; David Bishins as their father Jack; and Blanche Morton as Aunt Bonnie. Austyn Myers ("Lost in Yonkers") plays the young Eugene in "Brighton Beach Memoirs" and Sloan Grenz portrays Stanley. In "Broadway Bound" Eugene is played by Brandon Uranowitz, Stanley by Joseph Parks, with Howard Green playing Grandpa Ben.
"We have an exceptional cast," Schwartz said. "Those characters who remain in both plays are particularly interesting because we can follow their storylines throughout their journey. Karen is awesome and a Tony-award winner ("Contact"). Austyn Myers is such a wonderful actor — funny and honest — and I think playgoers are going to be so impressed with him."
Two plays in two different decades on the same stage can present visual challenges, but Schwartz said the team was very loyal to those periods. In the first play, the set reflects how the Jeromes are still struggling with Depression-era income. In "Broadway Bound," things are somewhat better, but changes are not overdone.
Schwartz admits with any comedy, timing often is planned after the previews. "I love when something that was not funny in rehearsal is incredibly funny to the audience. I always love that moment. But it can also be vice-versa when they don't laugh at what we think is a funny moment. But that doesn't happen often."
Both plays are about family togetherness and what we share that helps us to survive. Patrons can see only one or either play, but Schwartz said ideally it's better to see both.
"Anyone who chooses to see only one play, will have a wonderful, full evening of theater, go through an extraordinary journey and have fun. But seeing both, and particularly in order, will be even more of a rich and fulfilling experience."
IF YOU GO
- What: 'Brighton Beach Memoirs' and 'Broadway Bound'
- Where: The Globe Old Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park
- When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday; 8 p.m. Thurs-Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday; 1 and 7 p.m. Sept. 14-Nov. 7
- Tickets: $29-$85; (619) 23-GLOBE, www.TheOldGlobe.org