The Concord Players will present Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs, February 9 through 24 at The Performing Arts Center, 51 Walden Street.
The coming-of-age comedy focuses on Eugene Morris Jerome, a Jewish teenager from a Polish immigrant family, who’s obsessed with baseball, girls and writing (but not in that order).
Set in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn in September 1937, toward the end of the Great Depression, the semi-autobiographical play, according to Simon, tells its story “through the eyes of a 15-year-old boy who is writing his memoirs — which is exactly what I did when I was 15.”
The Jerome family includes Eugene’s older brother, Stanley; his parents, Jack and Kate; Kate’s sister Blanche; and Blanche’s two daughters, 16-year-old Nora and 13-year-old Laurie, who came to live with the Jeromes following the death of Blanche’s husband.
Michael Jay of Newton leads the cast in the role of Eugene, following his recent appearance as Perkins, the hapless butler, in the Players’ November production of The Play That Goes Wrong. Judson Pierce of Arlington and Betsy Cohen of Sudbury make their Concord Players debuts as Jacob and Blanche Jerome.
The actors portraying the Morton relatives are also newcomers to the Concord stage: Autumn DeSisto of Leominster plays Kate Morton, Blanche’s sister and aunt to Eugene and Stanley, with Amanda Albion of Dover in the role of the elder cousin, Nora Morton. Sylvia Nicol of Acton plays Laurie Morton, the younger cousin; she also works at Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House in Concord and has a deep appreciation for the Players’ history.
Devon Atwood of Sudbury, in the role of Stanley Jerome, is also making his Concord debut after graduating from UMass Amherst, although he says “I wasn’t a theater major or minor at UMass, just an enthusiast.
“Going to school for business wasn’t all that fun, so this was a good way to express myself and make friends in a community I meshed with more,” he added. “I spent most of my time with the UMass Theatre Guild, being in two shows as a freshman before Covid, then getting thrown into directing Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery as a junior for the Guild’s first show in two years once we came back. From there I did more acting, directing, and produced a show, too.”
Devon’s grandfather, David Atwood, has a behind-the-scenes history with The Concord Players.
“Looking for local entertainment, I subscribed to the 1999-2000 Players season and saw three fabulous productions,” coming away with new respect for community theater, he said. In August 2000, he responded to a notice in the newsletter looking for “backup” stage managers and ended up producing the fall production of Private Eyes. Since then, he has constructed sets, stage managed, and operated lights and sound. During Covid, he was the video director for the Players’ virtual productions.
“My grandfather has always been one of my biggest supporters as I continue to pursue theater as a hobby,” Devon said. “I’m always so surprised by how many people I run into know him.”
“My drama teacher in high school, Carly Evans, was the first. From there, I began to realize that community theater generally makes the world feel smaller. At UMass, I became friends with Chris Govang, one of my stage partners, whose parents had worked with my grandfather and The Concord Players.”
Brighton Beach Memoirs premiered on Broadway at the Alvin Theatre on March 27, 1983, and transferred to the 46th Street Theatre, where it closed May 11, 1986, after 1,299 performances.
In 1983, it received the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play and earned Matthew Broderick a Tony Award for Best Performance of a Featured Actor in a Play. It was also nominated for the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play.
Brighton Beach Memoirs is the first play in what is known as Neil Simon’s “Eugene trilogy” and was followed by Biloxi Blues in 1984 and Broadway Bound in 1986. That year, the play was adapted into a movie directed by Gene Saks, written by Simon. The cast featured Jonathan Silverman as Eugene, Blythe Danner as Kate, and Judith Ivey as Blanche, among other recognizable actors.
Performances are February 9, 10, 16, 17, 23 and 24 at 8 p.m. and February 18 at 2 p.m. For tickets and more information, visit concordplayers.org or call (978) 369-2990.