One of the most impressive aspects of the current Ventura College production of "Brighton Beach Memoirs" is the way the audience, seemingly drawn for the most part from the college community, responded so positively to the nostalgia of a man old enough to be their grandfather.
Neil Simon's semi-autobiographical play is set in Brooklyn in 1937, a far cry indeed from 1990 Ventura.
Still, the crowd on Sunday afternoon seemed to identify with the life of a second-generation, lower-middle-class Jewish family in Depression-era New York. Some aspects of family life are, indeed, universal.
Elliot Nahmias plays Eugene Jerome, the 14-year-old aspiring writer who occasionally steps outside the story to narrate it.
His family includes his parents, Jack and Kate, and Eugene's elder brother, Stanley. Also living in the house are Kate's sister, Blanche, whose two daughters, Nora and Laurie, are about the same ages as Stanley and Eugene, respectively.
The Jerome family is facing trouble, or at least change, from several directions.
Jack is having health and job problems, and Stanley is on the verge of losing his job over a matter of personal ethics. Nora wants to leave home to pursue a career on the stage, and Laurie's heart problems essentially confine her to the house.
If that's not enough to keep a play going for two hours, sisters Kate and Blanche may be headed for a confrontation they've been able to avoid for their entire adult lives. And if the Jeromes' relatives are able to flee German-occupied Poland successfully, where will they stay?
All of these situations are faced and answered before the end of "Brighton Beach Memoirs," and Simon manages to do so in a generally satisfying manner that draws as many laughs as tears.
Eugene, the Simon surrogate, is the play's central character, and Nahmias is convincing in the role--though he's clearly several years too old for the part, a problem that the audience has to ignore to appreciate Libbey Lazarus' portrayal of the spoiled youngster, Laurie.
More believable are the older characters, with John Medeiros especially noteworthy as the overworked father, and William F. McDonald as brother Stanley.
Simon has some trouble writing female characters without a comic edge, giving Sara Nesson, Verity George and Roberta Lakavage relatively little to work with as Kate, Blanche and Nora.
They all do well with what they're given.
Direction, by the V.C. theater department's Jay Varela with selected scenes supervised by Tony Marciel and Anna Quirino, is efficient and assured.
Technical director Willy Eck has designed a quite remarkable set, and both costumes (Abra Flores) and makeup (Edwin Barron) are commendable.
The first third of a trilogy that also includes "Biloxi Blues" and "Broadway Bound," this is one of Simon's most well-rounded works.
The Ventura College production is worth seeing.
WHERE AND WHEN
"Brighton Beach Memoirs" concludes this weekend, with performances at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights, and at 3 Sunday afternoon. General admission tickets are $7 for adults, $5 for students, seniors and Ventura College staff, and $3 per tickets for groups of 10 or more. Ventura College is at 4667 Telegraph Road in Ventura, though the theater faces Loma Vista Road on the north side of the campus. Call (805) 654-6459 for reservations or additional information.