In these difficult times, we could all do with a laugh. Canberra Repertory Society is reopening its season at Theatre 3 with Neil Simon's semi-autobiographical 1982 comedy Brighton Beach Memoirs.
Director Karen Vickery is tackling her first Simon play with this production, the first Rep show to open since the COVID-19 restrictions came into effect.
"I fell in love with Brighton Beach Memoirs," she says.
The play tells the story of the Jerome family, living in the European Jewish enclave in Brooklyn, New York, in 1937.
Vickery says, "It's told through the eyes of Eugene, played by Jamie Boyd."
The teenager - who is torn between pursuing baseball and writing as careers - is writing his memoirs throughout in a schoolbook.
Much of the play focuses on his interactions with and perspectives on his family, with seven people crammed into a house meant for four.
Eugene shares a bedroom with his older brother Stanley (James McMahon), who is working as a storeman in a hat factory. Their stressed but loving father Jack (Paul Sweeney) is working two jobs to provide for the family while mother Kate (Victoria Tyrell-Dixon) looks after the household, cooking and worrying.
Kate's sickly widowed sister Blanche (Amy Crawford) also lives with the Jeromes and her adolescent daughters Nora (Caitlin Baker) and Laurie (Ella Buckley) share the boys' room.
Living in close quarters with the girls piques Eugene's adolescent interest in the opposite sex.
Eugene, Vickery says, is "extremely curious about all matters pertaining to young women and seeks advice from his brother".
I was very attracted to Brighton Beach Memoirs because it was an immigrant family story with a lot of humour.Karen Vickery
Stanley, however, might not always be the most reliable source of information.
Vickey says despite being told from Eugene's perspective, Brighton Beach Memoirs is an ensemble piece.
"It's a coming-of-age story about the lives of four young people, all of whom are going are having growing pains," Vickery says.
"There are moments of conflict they have to resolve ... with each other, with their parents."
And their parents, in turn, have to come to terms with the fact that their children are growing up as well as with their stressful living situation.
Vickery says, "I was very attracted to Brighton Beach Memoirs because it was an immigrant family story with a lot of humour."
She was disappointed the production had to be postponed because of COVID-19 - the company was running through the first act when rehearsals stopped. But, she says, the original cast remained intact and they picked up from where they left off with the support of the Rep board.
Brighton Beach Memoirs was the first play in Simon's semi-autobiographical "Eugene" trilogy. The original Broadway production of Brighton Beach Memoirs won Tony Awards for best actor (Matthew Broderick) and best director and was the first part of Simon's autobiographical "Eugene" trilogy. It was adapted into a film in 1986.
Brighton Beach Memoirs was followed by Biloxi Blues (1984), about Eugene's experiences in an army training camp during World War II, which won the best play Tony and was filmed in 1988.
In Broadway Bound (1986), Eugene and Stanley are aspiring comedy writers who are also dealing with their parents' marital problems. It was adapted into a TV movie in 1992.
Vickery says directing Brighton Beach Memoirs has given her a new appreciation for the work of Simon, whose long career included television and films as well as the stage. She says Simon "is such a master".
"When you unpack the layers you realise what a powerful, strongly theatrical writer he is ... He's so clever with a wonderful light touch."
- Brighton Beach Memoirs. By Neil Simon. Directed by Karen Vickery. Canberra Rep Theatre, Ellery Crescent, Acton. New performance dates, with limited seating: July 30 to August 15, 2020. Season: Wednesday to Saturday, 8pm, Matinees: 8, 9, 15 August 8,9, 15 at, 2pm. Bookings: canberrarep.org.au.