‘Brighton Beach’ offers nostalgic comedy

Gary Linehan, The Union Democrat /

You couldn't make this stuff up.No one would believe you. It's too crazy.

That's why 13-year-old Eugene Morris Jerome of Brooklyn is writing it all down just as fast as he possibly can.

Just in case he doesn't end up pitching for the Yankees, he'll need it later on when he becomes a famous writer.

His hopes of being a ballplayer are dim. "All the best Yankees are Italian," he gripes. "My mother makes spaghetti sauce with ketchup! What chance do I have?"

Those tattered notebooks will be called "Brighton Beach Memoirs" and within them is scribbled a nostalgic story of incredible family love, struggle and humor.

This time capsule of comedy will open Friday and run through Dec. 23 at Stage 3 Theatre Company at 208 S. Green St. in Sonora.

In a sense, Eugene has it easy. To paraphrase Will Rogers, there's no trick to being a humorist when you have your whole family working for you. But he has also discovered something that has perplexed, annoyed and dumbfounded young men for all time. He has discovered girls.

"The funniest, richest, most affecting of his plays" - that's what the New York Daily News said about Neil Simon's play.

"This is a play about dreams and what you will sacrifice for those you love," said director Don Bilotti. "It's about family. It's bursting with life and crackling with energy. "

During a break from rehearsals, Bilotti confessed, "When I first read 'Brighton Beach' a year ago, I got swept up with the story and characters. This isn't your typical Neil Simon comedy. There are lots of laughs but plenty of heartaches and trouble too. My eyes were filled with tears by the end.

"I'm a sucker for those things that give our lives beauty and grace and hope and laughter," he said. "I'm a sucker for love and innocence. I'm a sucker for charm and schmaltz. That's what we hope to bring our audience this holiday season."

"Brighton Beach Memoirs" centers on the Jerome family - Mom, Pop, older brother Stanley and young Jerome. Aunt Blanche and her daughters Nora and Laurie are the "temporary" houseguests who have stayed three years. This bunch is sardined into a tiny house at the edge of New York City and sandwiched in between the Great Depression and the horror of World War II.

They have a few problems. Pop has lost one of his jobs, Stanley has lost his paycheck, Eugene is losing his innocence and Mom is just flat losing her mind over it all. Sixteen-year-old Nora wants to quit school and become Broadway dancer, little Laurie has a heart condition and widowed Blanche is trying to find a way to fill the loneliness in her life. To top it all off, they can drive each other bananas.

Funny? With this crew of loose cannons it is. That's how they deal with the heartache. Tender and touching? That's the only way they can deal with each other.

The "Brighton Beach" cast contains several Stage 3 favorites and many of new faces.

Young Kii Kellerman steps to the fore in the central character of Eugene.

"Kii keeps surprising me with his talent, his intelligence and his courage," Bilotti said. "He's got great poise and a terrific sense of humor. We looked very hard to find the right young man and I think we've got him."

Mom and Pop are Central Valley veterans Traci Sprague and Mike Moon. Sprague, making her Stage 3 debut, comes with a raft of acting and directing credits. Moon, one of the region's busiest actors, was recently seen as Archer, the beleaguered White House chief of staff in "November."

Kaitlyn Brennan, who was a powerful Anne Frank at Stage 3, is cousin Nora. Josh Robben and Haliana Orman-Schindler are goofy older brother Stanley Stanley and little cousin Laurie.

Susan Chapman is making her theatrical debut as the kooky and nearsighted Aunt Blanche.

Ron Cotnam has provided the multi-level set, costume designer is Diana Newington and lights are designed by Matthew Leamy. The production is stage managed by Alicia Johnson assisted by Melody Johnson and Catelin Moody.

This production is made possible in part by associate producer the Bank of Stockton.

"Brighton Beach Memoirs" will run Thursdays through Sundays except Thanksgiving.

Curtain times are 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Ticket prices are $18 Thursday, $20 Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Senior Sundays are $18 and students always $12.

For reservations or more information, call 536?1778 or visit www.stage3.org.

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