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Cappies: 'Brighton Beach Memoirs' sparkle at Francis Howell North

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 26, 2012 - The first pitches from Eugene outside his home that prompted one of his numerous arguments with his mother set the comedic pace for the rest of the night at Francis Howell North’s production of “Brighton Beach Memoirs.”

The play is a coming-of-age tale of Eugene, his brother Stanley and their two cousins Nora and Laurie. Told from Eugene’s point of view, it highlights the typical struggles of a teenage boy alongside the troubles of the impending World War II and the pressing Depression on his family.

Set in September 1937, in Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, New York, “Brighton Beach Memoirs” premiered on Broadway in 1983 and ran for over 1,000 performances. The play, which received numerous awards, has since been adapted into a movie and was revived in 2009 but closed after nine performances.

Joe Henke, portraying Eugene, was full of dramatic energy from the beginning of the play and embodied his character all night long. Providing comic relief, his facial expressions never failed to add another dimension of drama.

Complementing him on stage was Brock Birkner, playing Stanley, and together they developed a believable onstage relationship. The dramatic abilities of Birkner were most notable in the tension-filled scene where he reveals to Eugene that he has lost his week’s salary in a poker game.

Another noteworthy ensemble was the parents of Eugene and Stanley (John Hallemeier and Mallory Echelmeyer), who had notable chemistry. Hallemeier possessed an innate believability in his portrayal of a patriarch in the struggling household. The emotional and physical load he carried throughout the night was consistent and accurate, enhancing the drama brought to the stage.

The technical aspects of the show were consistent. The sound and lights were well done and enhanced the audience’s ability to enjoy the show. The make-up crews highlighted the different age groups nicely and although sometimes varying in time period, the costumes helped to bring the characters to life.

With a full and dynamic set, the cast used the different stage levels to their advantage during the heated arguments. Although inconsistent at some times in the play the accents of the cast were a nice addition to portraying the setting of the play.

Concluding an evening filled with high emotional drama and comedic asides from a feverously written diary of Eugene, Francis Howell North provided a unique adaptation of “Brighten Beach Memoirs.”

Kaylyn Bauer is a student at Holt High School.