Annex Theater offers the right atmosphere for ‘Brighton Beach’

The comedy was especially strong in the Neil Simon play.



Watching a play at the New Castle Playhouse’s Annex Theater is an intimate experience. The audience sits around tables in a small area very close to the stage. This provides not only a feeling of closeness with the actors in the play, but also one’s audience neighbors. Mine, incidentally, were a friendly middle-age singles group.

The play was Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” an ideal show for such a theater. Eugene Morris Jerome, a fictionalized version of young Simon, narrates the story of his troubled family in 1937 New York. From the opening scene, the audience is drawn into the family home, sharing their experiences and emotions.

Ben Solomon was excellent as Eugene, full of youthful angst and whimsy. His narration carried the play, and his lines were delivered with perfect timing and interpretation. As Eugene’s older brother, Stanley, Matthew J. DiBattiste, delivered an equally exceptional performance with a convincing New York accent and great energy. The scenes between the two were easily the best in the play with hilarious delivery and lively pacing.

Tammy Erkman played Kate, the boys’ mother, with a realistic Jewish accent and inflection. As the boys father, Jack, Bill Gallager gave an appropriately understated and moderate performance. Alaina Sapienza and Bergen Giordani played cousin Nora and Aunt Blanche, respectively, with sincerity and competence. Newcomer Karina Sanchez was impressive as cousin Laurie, performing with an ease and comfort seen in experienced actors.

Paul Angelucci directed the play with obvious experience, incorporating lots of movement, which kept it interesting and engaging. The comedic scenes in the play surpassed the dramatic ones. The dialogue in the funny scenes was quick-paced and perfectly delivered, while the dramatic scenes tended to drag. The actors seemed much less sure of themselves during the dramatic scenes, stepping on one another’s lines or faltering on their own. Of course, this usually gets ironed out the more the play is performed.

While most of the play covers typical subjects, there is bit of mature material. The boys discuss sexual topics with hilarious candor. And there was one swear word, as my neighbor announced in the middle of the performance, “F-bomb!”

This type of audience reaction is typical of such a close environment. The audience feels so much a part of the show, they think they can speak directly to the characters. While it does momentarily break the suspension of disbelief, it also provides an intimate theater experience that cannot be found anywhere else.