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CCC captures Depression-era Brooklyn

“Brighton Beach Memoirs” director James Eikrem has coached his seven-member cast on the use of Brooklyn accents in the play, which adds an authentic flavor to the show.

by: PHOTO BY JENNIFER WHITTEN - Branden McFarland, as Eugene, shares a moment with his mother, played by Hailey Houser, in 'Brighton Beach Memoirs.'That’s not the only auditory delight awaiting audiences at Clackamas Community College’s final play of the season. CCC’s vocal jazz group, Mainstream, will sing on opening night Thursday, May 22, to enhance the mood for the Neil Simon play set in 1937, during the Depression.

“This play is the one that started Neil Simon down the road of being recognized for more than just situation comedies,” Eikrem said.

As theater instructor and artistic director at CCC, Eikrem chose the play because it appeals on many different levels, and students can relate to its themes that includef coming of age, sibling rivalry, and a family overcoming challenges.

The play is set in Brighton Beach, in Brooklyn, N.Y., and is considered to be semi-autobiographical.

“The play is framed by Eugene. It is told from the point of view of his memories,” Eikrem said.

Eugene, who is almost 15, lives in a blended household with his mother, father, brother, his mother’s sister and her two teenage daughters.

“The play deals with health issues and growing up in a time of economic hardship. There are some frank discussions about the attractions of females by the two young men that broke new ground in 1983,” Eikrem said, adding that this is a play with adult themes and some adult language.

He likes the play partly for its scenes featuring the relationship between the two brothers, but also because it features a family dealing with life and economic difficulties, that is “reflective of what we are looking at right now.”

It is important to Eikrem that the cast projects “a real sense of ongoing family life.”

Staging the dinner scene, where the entire cast sits down and eats a meal while keeping the dialogue going, has been a challenge, Eikrem said, but the most enjoyable part of the process has been his cast.

“They are willing to say ‘yes’ to me, and we understand each other well,” he said, adding that he looks for plays that are stimulating educationally and still fun to do.

Set and costumes

Another challenge for the actors has been working on a big, open set with plenty of activity going on simultaneously onstage, Eikrem said.

In fact, the set is so important to the play, that Eikrem noted it is almost as much a character as the actors themselves.

Although this is not the biggest set he has ever designed, Chris Witten, the theater department’s technical director and resident designer, said it has “one of the largest scenic footprints” he has ever created.

“This play is a memory, and just like our memories, we only remember the important things. This set mimics that. The things Eugene doesn’t remember about his house are not there,” Whitten said.

“There is specific detail in his memory, including an upstairs and a downstairs, and we chose to focus on the pieces he remembers,” Whitten said.

Costume designer Alva Bradford and her crew have relished the challenge of putting together men’s and women’s clothing from 1937. They’ve used some vintage patterns and modern, but vintage-inspired fabric to create the authentic look that Eikrem wanted.

Audiences will respond well to the humor in “Brighton Beach Memoirs” and the re-creation of the time period. They also will relate to the story of people “facing adversity and rising above it,” Eikrem said.

“Neil Simon has done a nice job of pointing out relationships, and he does it in a way that you can enjoy — we are rooting for all these characters.”

As for why Simon’s plays are so popular, Eikrem said it is partly due to the fact that Simon has a reputation for being successful on Broadway and also because they have stood the test of time so well.

He added, “People know his name, audiences relate to his plays, and they continue to be funny. Also, he writes really good characterizations and is good at setting up comedic situations.”

Fast facts

What: Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs”

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and 2:30 p.m. Sundays, through June 1. Before each matinee, history professor Jackie Flowers will give a brief talk to set the historical context of the play.

CCC’s vocal jazz group Mainstream will perform songs from the 1930s just before the play opens May 22.

Where: Osterman Theatre, Niemeyer Center, Clackamas Community College, 19600 S. Molalla Ave., Oregon City

Tickets: $10 adults, $8 students and seniors (62+); buy tickets online at TheatreCCC.org or call Kelly at 503-594-3153. Pay what you can performance at 10 a.m. Friday, May 30.

Details: Directed by James Eikrem, set design by Chris Whitten, and costumes by Alva Bradford.

Cast members include: Randi Bolt, as Nora; Beth Dodge, as Laurie; Jayme Hall, as Stanley; Aaron Hodel, as Jack; Hailey Houser, as Kate; Branden McFarland, as Eugene; and Jennifer Whitten, as Blanche.



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