Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: OCTOBER 15, 2010
That sound you hear wafting through the air in Balboa Park is unbridled laughter. The Old Globe is presenting a triple-header of comedies: two by Neil Simon and one by Pulitzer Prize finalist Kristoffer Diaz.
Simon wrote his semi-autobiographical “BB Trilogy” in the late 1980s. “Brighton Beach Memoirs” came first, then “Biloxi Blues,” and finally, “Broadway Bound.” The Globe has brought back the two bookends, running them in repertory on the same wonderful, split-level set, sharing most of the same cast. It’s a great gambit – and it pays off, big-time.
In “ Brighton Beach ,” a working-class oceanside Brooklyn neighborhood, circa 1937, we meet Eugene, Simon’s alter ego, who’s at the center of all three plays. At first, he’s a 15 year-old, smart-alecky wannabe writer who narrates the action as it’s happening.
Accomplished actor Austyn Myers, also 15, is terrific as young Eugene, and Brandon Uranowitz is spectacular as a wiser, but still wisecracking Gene at age 27, on the cusp of his comic writing career, in “Broadway Bound.” David Bishins and Tony-winner Karen Ziemba are outstanding as their put-upon parents; and Joseph Parks is excellent as Gene’s fretful, hyper-emotional brother, Stan.
“Brighton Beach Memoirs” is filled with Simonesque one-liners. “Broadway Bound” is more bittersweet, as it deals with the dissolution of the parents’ marriage. Under the direction of Scott Schwartz, everything is just about perfect in both plays — except those pesky New York accents. To my frustrated, native- New York ear, those vowels just aren’t right. But the New York attitude, pace, rhythm and sensibility are there in spades, and you’d be a fool to miss this dynamic pairing, a comical peek at what young Neil Simon and his life just might’ve been like.
For a more hip and hip hop family saga, check out “Welcome to Arroyo’s,” set in another part of the City, the Lower East Side , where Simon’s Jewish immigrant family probably started out. Now it’s a diverse, heavily Latino neighborhood, where the Arroyo sibs hang. Alejandro has taken over the family bodega, after his mother died a month ago. He’s trying to make it into a cool nightspot, with the help of two hilarious sidekicks – played by Wade Allain -Marcus and GQ – who serve as guides, Greek chorus, DJs, rappers and resident clowns. They’re spectacular.
Meanwhile, Alex’s angry, aggressive sister, Molly, wants no part of the lounge idea. She’s an aspiring artist, of the graffiti variety. When she tags the local police station, she has an eventful run-in with a sensitive rookie cop.
There isn’t much depth or gravitas in “Arroyo’s,” but there are plenty of laughs, coupled with a glimpse of barrio life, family commitment and keeping history and memory alive.
That’s what all these plays are cooking up: equal parts heart and humor, simmered into a light, tasty theatrical dish.
“Welcome to Arroyo’s” runs through October 31, at the Old Globe, where “Brighton Beach Memoirs” and “Broadway Bound” continue in repertory through November 7.
©2010 PAT LAUNER