To the cast of Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” the summer theater offering by the Central Lakes College (CLC) Theatre, there are two meanings to the word family. The show, opening Wednesday for nine performances through July 28, has the concept of family at its core. The experience of working on the play, though, has given the cast a sense of family as well.
“The characters (in this play) are so relatable,” said Caleb Christensen, who plays the role of Eugene, the central character in the play. “If I met them in real life, I could have a conversation with them.”
Neil Simon wrote “Brighton Beach” as the first of a trilogy of autobiographical plays. Eugene represents the playwright at age 15, just learning about life and girls, fantasizing about being a baseball star, and grappling with the difficulties faced by his family. Eugene’s older brother, Stanley, has work-related crises. Jack, the head of the household, is working himself into an early grave to support not only his family, but that of his wife’s widowed sister and her two daughters.
“This play, although set in 1937, still relates well to today,” said director Patrick Spradlin. “It’s a story of struggle in hard economic times, and how families have to sacrifice and create opportunities just to make it.”
Jen Anderson of Pine River plays Kate, Eugene’s mother and the glue that holds together the two families under one roof.
“I love how real the play is,” she said. “It’s a real family dealing with real issues. The message that comes through is, ‘Family comes first, you do whatever you can.’”
The seven member cast includes, in addition to Christensen and Anderson, Linda Nichols of Brainerd, Jess Moehling of Ironton, Jennifer Fundine of East Gull Lake, Charlie Cook of Pequot Lakes, and Craig Hostetler of Wisconsin. While working on the play, the group has formed a bond much like that of a real family.
“I like coming to rehearsals,” says Moehling. “The amount of fun we’ve had is terrific.”
Fundine joked with her husband about taking part in the play.
“He asked if it was a burlesque show,” she laughed. “I appreciated his sense of humor about the whole thing.”
Two of the cast members have come a great distance, literally speaking, to take part in the production. Cook just completed a 10 month deployment as a U.S. Army medic, stationed in Kuwait. While a student at Pequot Lakes High School, he did theater, including playing the role of Bassanio in “The Merchant of Venice.”
“It’s been about three years since I’ve done a play,” Cook said. “It really feels good to be back in this kind of close environment with other actors.”
Hostetler is familiar to Brainerd audiences, even though he lives for nine months of the year in Wisconsin, working as a dorm supervisor and play director for a private boarding school. In the summer, he returns to Brainerd and enjoys being a part of theater productions.
“I’m excited to tackle dramatic material this summer,” he said. “Especially after tackling a staircase two summers ago.” Hostetler is referencing his role in the play “Noises Off” produced in 2010 by CLC, where his character repeatedly fell down a full flight of stairs.
“Brighton Beach Memoirs” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. in the John Chalberg Theatre on the Brainerd campus. Tickets are $8 for adults, $6 for seniors age 60 or older and $5 for students. Tickets can be purchased from the CLC Theatre Box Office at 855-8199, or online at clctickets.com. Tickets also can also be purchased at the door.
Spradlin said there is language and subject matter that may not be appropriate for small children.
“The main character is a 15-year old boy entering puberty,” Spradlin said. “He asks some pointed questions of his older brother.”