Whitehall-Coplay Press

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Pennsylvania Playhouse visits ‘Brighton Beach’

Friday, April 6, 2018 by DAWN OUELLETTE Special to The Press in Focus

“Bright Beach Memoirs” is the classic coming-of-age tale of 15-year-old Eugene Morris Jerome as he navigates life with his family in 1937 Brooklyn.

The Neil Simon semi-autobiographical play has been a comedy favorite since it debuted on Broadway in 1983.

“Brighton Beach Memoirs” is presented April 6, 7, 13-15, 19-22, The Pennsylvania Playhouse, Bethlehem. Curtain times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.

Rody Gilkeson, long-time director of shows and musicals at Notre Dame High School, Green Pond, Bethlehem Township, directs The Playhouse production.

“It’s the first in a trilogy of plays that Neil Simon wrote, all kind of based on his own life when he was a 14-year-old Jewish kid growing up in Brighton Beach,” says Gilkeson.

“There is a lot of humor, but it also touches on serious things, worrying about his father, being Jewish just before World War II. There is a lot going on in this play.”

Gilkeson says that the character of Eugene is the audience favorite, but his mother Kate is another primary character very relatable to audiences.

“She is not just a Jewish mother,” says Gilkeson, “but a mother in general. She’s loving but firm. She grabs his ears and drags him through the house, but you always know she loves him. A lot of the show touches on her relationship with Eugene.”

The Playhouse cast includes Jack Miller (Eugene), his parents, Kelly Herbert James (Kate) and Nick Englesson (Jack); brother, Kristian Henrickson Shea (Stanley); sister, Rachel Williams (Blanche) and Blanche’s daughters, Adriana Sfara (Nora) and Alexa McFillin (Laurie).

Gilkeson is assisted by assistant director Kayla Driscoll, stage manager Jessica Mulligan, set designer Richard Gunkle, costume designer Elizabeth Marsh-Gilkeson, and lighting designer Brett Oliveira.

Gilkeson is proud of the entire production and all the actors in the show.

Miller, who plays Eugene, is a junior at Wilson Area High School, Wilson Borough, and has only recently begun acting. “From the moment he throws the ball against the wall, you fall in love with him,” says Gilkeson.

Gilkeson enjoys directing at Pennsylvania Playhouse, founded in 1946 and now in its 72nd season.

“The Playhouse has been around a long time,” he says. “It has the reputation of really great work. It’s a wonderful, intimate space.”

Tickets: Pennsylvania Playhouse Box Office, 390 Illick’s Mill Road, Bethlehem; paplayhouse.org; 610-865-1192