Published on August 22nd, 2017 | by Brittain Thompson0
Theatre Oxford Opens its 20th Season with Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs
Theatre Oxford, which is entering its 20th year of entertaining the Oxford-Lafayette Community, kicks off this season Thursday, August 24 with an early Neil Simon classic, Brighton Beach Memoirs. The highly anticipated opener will be the first performance to utilize the new stage at The Powerhouse, and is directed by Kayleigh Graham.
“I have been working with Theatre Oxford for many years, and I was just put on the board. They asked if I wanted to direct it, because it has a sensitive subject matter . . . it [deals a lot with] coming-of-age,” said Graham.
“Neil Simon is an American master of comedy,” said Graham. “Instead of doing The Odd Couple or Laughter on the 23rd Floor, we decided to go with a more autobiographical one. This is the first in a series of plays that he did about his life. It’s more of an introspective into . . . wanting to be a writer and the awkwardness of that.”
The play, a coming-of-age tale, focuses on the narrator and main character Eugene Jerome, played by Oxford native Jacob Hall, who is on the cusp of turning 15. Hall is no stranger to acting—his first performance was actually at The Powerhouse and you may recognize him from last year’s Oxford Film Fest community film Firemax as Roundabout.
“It’s very relatable playing a boy who wants to be a writer going through puberty, whose family doesn’t always understand him and he doesn’t always understand them,” said Hall. “It feels almost like a flashback to me.”
Jacob lives with his family in an overcrowded house in the Brighton Beach area of Brooklyn during the Great Depression. His father works two jobs while his oldest brother makes efforts to hold down a steady gig to help out.
Eugene’s brother, Stanley, is played by Joshua Heylin.
“Stanley is 18, so he’s at the in-between of leaving teenage era and coming into adulthood,” said Haylin. “He is struggling between what he believes is right versus what he needs to do keep his job. It’s a balance between responsibilities and his morals. I was in a very similar situation at my second job so I can definitely relate to that.”
Throughout rehearsals, the themes of the play resonated more and more with the cast and crew.
“When we chose [this play] we didn’t realize how relevant it would be,” said Graham. “The more we’re working with it and working through it, I see that it is still [here]—being poor, cramped, and forced to do things you don’t want to, and the worry for [yourself] and your loved ones out in the world.”
As well as marking 20 years of Theatre Oxford, Brighton Beach Memoirs will be the first play on the new stage at The Powerhouse.
“We usually start building the Sunday before we open and I won’t sleep for about 24 hours,” laughs Graham. “We’re very excited to have a new stage to put it on.”
“It seemed like something that would be fun to do,” said Knight. “I read through the play and thought, ‘Why not?’”
Susan Bradley, playing Aunt Blanche, is in a similar boat as Knight. Bradley had no experience prior to this show but wanted to get involved along with her daughter Taylor who plays Laurie, the youngest sister.
“If you’re interested, just come audition,” said Bradley.
The performance is open to all ages, though the cast emphasizes that the play is as PG-13 as the movie.
Tickets are available at theatreoxford.com for $15 and will also be available at the door the night of the shows at The Powerhouse, August 24–27. Performances will begin at 7:30 pm Thursday through Saturday, with a matinee on Sunday at 2 pm.