SONORA -- Rarely do you find a community theater production where every cast member is good, but that's the case in Stage 3 Theatre's poignant presentation of Neil Simon's "Brighton Beach Memoirs."
Director Don Bilotti has found seven wonderful cast members age 13 through middle age who work so well together that you believe they really are an extended family struggling to make ends meet in 1937 Brooklyn.
Though the show has nothing to do with Christmas (the family is Jewish and the story isn't set during the holidays), it makes for great holiday entertainment because of its uplifting message about the power of love and forgiveness. You laugh and cry with the characters and root for them to overcome their many challenges.
Loosely based on Simon's life, the play premièred in 1983 with a pre-"Ferris Bueller's Day Off" Matthew Broderick starring in the lead role as 13-year-old narrator Eugene Jerome. It's the first installment in Simon's Eugene trilogy the other two are "Biloxi Blues" and "Broadway Bound."
Ki'i Kellerman, the 13-year-old who plays Eugene here, is so good it's almost scary. The home-schooled student drives the show with his sometimes humorous and sometimes touching commentary on each family member. He seems completely comfortable on stage and gave Sunday's audience a hard laugh with his riffs on his struggles with puberty. Joshua Robben is kind and charming as Eugene's risk-taking older brother.
Modesto's Traci Sprague, artistic director and co-founder of the new downtown Modesto Center Stage Conservatory Lower Level Studio, is the classic hardworking housewife as Eugene and Stanley's mother, Kate Jerome. She never stops doing the many household chores, including cooking, cleaning and folding laundry, while trying to keep her family together. She's loud and blunt with her two sons, but you can tell her brash demeanor covers a loving heart.
M ike Moon is almost saintly as the overworked and supremely patient father, Jack Jerome. He has to work several jobs to support his large household, but he makes time for everyone's problems. He has the most touching line in the show when he tells one of his sons who has made a major mistake, "Don't you know you could never do something so terrible I couldn't forgive you?"
Susan Chapman is sympathetic as Kate's shy, widowed sister, Blanche Morton. Overwhelmed by life's responsibilities and much less confident than her sister, she is afraid of making any decision because it might be the wrong one.
Kaitlyn Brennan is full of fire as her 16-year-old daughter, Nora, who dreams of being a Broadway star, and Haliana Orman-Shindler is studious and quiet as younger daughter Laurie.
Ron Cotnam has created a detailed set of the family home, complete with a loft with bunk beds for the boys, a dining area, a living room and an outdoor patio. Diana Newington's costumes fit the Depression era perfectly.
If this sounds like something you would be interested in, you would be wise to get tickets soon. Sunday's matinee was almost full, and many performances surely will sell out once word spreads about how great this production is.
Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan Renner can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2313.
'BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS'
WHERE: Stage 3 Theatre, 208 S. Green St., Sonora
WHEN: Through Dec. 23; 7 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays
RUNNING TIME: 2 hours 30 minutes, including an intermission
TICKETS: $20 general, $18 senior Sundays for age 65 and up, $12 students
INFORMATION: (209) 536-1778 or www.stage3.org
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