Neil Simon’s ‘Brighton Beach Memoirs’

For several members of the Warren High School drama department, the spring play “Brighton Beach Memoirs” will be a bittersweet experience.

Of the seven cast members, five will be graduating seniors performing for the last time with a group of whom they have grown quite fond.

“It’s kind of sad because I came up with these people … but it has also been a really fun experience,” said Mariah Stollar, 18, who plays “Kate Jerome” in the semi-autobiographical play written by Neil Simon.

Two plays are typically performed each year and students have an opportunity to participate from their freshman year on. Other productions have included “The Miracle Worker” and “You Can’t Take it With You.”

“Brighton Beach Memoirs” focuses on Eugene Jerome, a 15-year-old boy growing up and coming of age in Brooklyn, New York in 1937. “Brighton” is the first in a trilogy, which includes “Biloxi Blues” and “Broadway Bound.”

Stollar’s character is the matriarch of the Jewish family, overbearing mother to Eugene and Stanley, and harried wife of Jacob.

“She is strict and short-tempered,” explained Stollar, “and the polar opposite of me.”

Getting into character and crossing boundaries has been part of the appeal for the cast, which is made up of many seasoned thespians who have performed in school and community productions alike.

“I started acting at Mid-Ohio Valley Players when I was 7,” said Timmy Kinker, 19, who plays overworked father Jacob Jerome and will also be seen in an upcoming Actors Guild production of “Shrek the Musical.”

“There is a possibility I might study theater in college,” he said. “There is nothing like it … acting is playing imagination at 18 years old. You get to take on a different persona.”

Although playing 15 for a 16-year-old might not seem like much of a stretch, taking on the lead of Eugene didn’t come without some challenges for sophomore Drew Ullman.

“Well he is a little immature. And then there was the accent,” he said.

The entire cast put in a lot of practice to nail down the thick New York dialects. In fact, the cast put in a lot of their own time just to rehearse.

“All the snow days did have an impact but a lot of times we would come out anyway, even if school was canceled,” Stollar said.

Rounding out the characters are Eugene’s older brother, Stanley; Kate’s widowed sister, Blanche, and her daughters, Nora and Laurie.

The play will be performed at Warren High School at 7 p.m. Friday and at 3 p.m. Sunday. Angela Erb-Gentile is the drama teacher and Emily Brannon is student director.

“We couldn’t have done it without Emily,” said Ullman, adding, “It’s a really good production, very comedic and fun for the whole family … and everyone has worked so hard so people should come see it.”