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P.L.A.Y.

(Performance = Literature + Art + You)

Student Matinee Series

Student Matinee 2002-2003

Neil Simon Directed by Tim Ocel


By

Dear Educators,
About two months ago I moved my life from sunny Shell Beach, California to not so sunny Rochester, New York. The overwhelming response so far has been a very astonished WHY? The answer is simple. Someone made me an offer I couldnt refuse. I am pleased to announce that I am the new Associate Director of Education at Geva Theatre. I am also pleased that we are offering Neil Simons Brighton Beach Memoirs as a part of our P.L.A.Y. series this season. Brighton Beach Memoirs is known as one of Americas best loved plays and in creating this study guide I found out why. When I read Brighton Beach Memoirs, memories of my own childhood quickly came to mind. This was largely due to the fact that my family recently presented me with a video montage consisting of photos from my last 30 years. It began with baby pictures and then moved into shots of me as a toddler. Next it was onto elementary school birthdays, Halloween costumes and school plays. Then, of course, we came to the junior high and high school years. I was forced to view snapshot after snapshot of drastically varying hairstyles, outrageous clothing and radical make-up modeled by a very sullen teen. Growing up can be painful. Looking back, it can also be quite humorous. I love Brighton Beach Memoirs because there is so much truth in the script. Its the honesty that makes me laugh and the sincerity that makes me cry. Every family changes as it grows. That growth can be difficult, but it is the only way children can become adults. Neil Simon has a wonderful way of showing us ourselves by revealing secrets from his own childhood. In Brighton Beach Memoirs, we look through the eyes of a 15-year-old to see the frustration, the terror and the thrill of growing up. Needless to say, this is a great play for adults and young adults to experience together. To further enrich that experience, you will find in this study guide a variety of resources including an interview with the director Tim Ocel, set and costume renderings, suggested classroom activities, social and historical information, a glossary and a biography of Neil Simon. I want to strongly urge you to attend our teacher workshop on Thursday, January 9 from 4-5:30pm at Geva Theatre. We will be bringing together some of the artists who created the show to speak first hand about their intentions and experiences with the production. I look forward to meeting you all sometime soon. Please call 2321366x3058 with any questions you may have. Thank you for coming to see Brighton Beach Memoirs and for supporting the arts in our schools.

Cast of Characters
(in order of appearance)

Eugene Blanche Kate Laurie Nora Stanley Jack

Table of Contents
Synopsis . . . . . . 3 About the Playwright . . . . . 3 Interview with Director Tim Ocel . . . . . . . . . . . .4-5 What was Happening in 1937 ............. 6 Before the War . 6 Fireside Chat . . . . 7 Set & Costume Designs . . . . . . 8-9 Glossary . . . . . 10 Tell Us What You Think . . . . . . . . . 10 Resources . . . . 11

Andrea Stoner Associate Director of Education

I love tense moments!...Especially when Im not the one theyre all tense about. Eugene

Synopsis
It is 1937 in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Brighton Beach where the families of two Jewish sisters share a house and their crowded lives. After her husband died, Blanche and her two teenaged daughters Nora and Laurie moved in with sister Kate, Kates husband Jack and their two teenaged sons Stanley and Eugene. Times are hard and the families barely scrape by from week to week. Fifteen-year-old Eugene serves as our narrator during an unusually dramatic week as each family members problems comes to a head. In the course of one day Nora is discovered by a Broadway producer who wants her in his new musical extravaganza; Stanley gets into trouble with his boss; and Jack is let go from the extra job that was keeping the two families going. No less minor are Lauries heart palpitations, Eugenes raging hormones, and the growing tension between the two sisters living in close quarters for too long. Things go from bad to worse. Jack suffers a heart attack. Stan gambles away his valuable paycheck, then runs away to join the army. Nora distances herself from the family after her mother refuses to let her audition for Abracadabra. As the problems escalate, the pressure becomes too much for Kate and Blanche. Resentments surface and they have the argument of a lifetime. It seems as though the family is permanently fragmented, but in the end, the bond of sisterhood proves stronger than their resentment. Apologies are made, and the family heals its wounds. As all is resolved news arrives - Jacks six-member Polish refugee family is on the way to New York.

Matthew Broderick as Eugene in the first production of Brighton Beach Memoirs on Broadway 1983

Neil Simon used events and experiences from his own life to create Brighton Beach Memoirs. What events in your life would make a good play, book or television program?

About the Playwright


Neil Simons bio reads like the quintessential American success story. Born in the Bronx on the fourth of July in 1927, he grew up with his second-generation Jewish immigrant working-class family in Washington Heights. After brief stints in college and the army, he began work in the Warner Brothers mailroom. At this time he also began working on comedy sketches with his brother. Soon he was creating revues for the stage, and both brothers began writing for television. Simons first play Come Blow Your Horn was written as a relief from the grind of television writing and was a huge success in 1961, beginning a tradition. Rarely has there been a Broadway season where Simons name has not appeared on a playbill. After a series of less successful plays in the late seventies, Simon revitalized his career and reputation with his autobiographical trilogy of Brighton Beach Memoirs (1983), Biloxi Blues (1985) and Broadway Bound (1986). His 1991 play Lost in Yonkers won him a Pulitzer Prize in drama, as well as his third Tony for Best Play. Simon currently lives in California.

Neil Simon

You see why I want to write all this down?...In case I grow up all twisted and warped, the world will know why. Eugene

Interview with Director Tim Ocel


This interview was conducted by Andrea Stoner, Geva Theatres Associate Director of Education
s

Tim Ocel

Dramaturg: a person who researches the history and background of a play

What kinds of research did you and the designers do for this production? Brighton Beach Memoirs takes place late in September 1937, in Brighton Beach, New York. Our country had beeen rocked by The Great Depression which would last four more years. Books, magazines, photographs and movies provided us with historical information and images of the times. Then our set designer, Erhard Rom, made a trip to the real Brighton Beach and photographed the neighborhood; much of it built before 1930. B. Modern, our costume designer, used Sears & Roebuck catalogs from the period to research the clothing. All these images helped create the design of the production. For the actors we needed to research the baseball references that Eugene has. Jack (the father) is concerned with Europe, which was on the brink of World War II. These references need a context so we went to history books and news articles. I also use our production dramaturg, April Donahower, as an information resource center. You say that Simon was writing autobiographically. Does the character of Eugene represent him as a teenager? Yes. Eugene Jerome is Neil Simons alter egohis stand in. Mr. Simon has only one sibling, an older brother. In the play Eugene and Stanley parallel that relationship. However, Neil Simon never lived in Brighton Beach although he had spent some childhood summers in Far Rockaway Beach and occasionally Brighton Beach. "I created the family [in the play]," says Mr. Simon, "by doing exactly the opposite to what happened to me in my own life. My father left my mother when I was Eugenes age and she and I were taken in by my cousins who lived in a small apartment in the East 60s. My brother, Danny, was taken in by my mothers brother and his wife. With all this happening in two separate houses, I had to rearrange our lives to fit us all into the same house for the sake of the play. Since I was raised in Manhattan, why is this semiautobiographical play taking place in such a distant place as Brighton Beach? The answer: because it was such a distant place." Other similarities to Eugene? Mr. Simon is also a baseball fanatic, Jewish and attracted to girlsnot necessarily in that order. There are many issues explored in Brighton Beach? What would you say is the central issue of the play? Certainly the largest action, though not necessarily the central issue, is the manner in which these seven people live together. There is not enough room in the house for all to live comfortably and not enough money coming in to support the family. This causes a certain amount of stress and resentment. These pressures cause Jacks heart attack, Blanches uncertainty, Noras emotional separation, Stanleys recklessness; it pushes Kates confrontation with her sister. But ultimately the family gains strength and goes on. Maybe the central issue of the play is how a family defines itself even as its growing older, changing, being challenged.

How is the structure of this play different from others you have seen? Does it enhance or detract from the story?

Have you ever kept a journal? Take some time to record an event in your life that happened in the past week.

What other plays, If you grow up thinking I was perfect, youll hate yourself. Jack or television movies

Using Eugene as a narrator is a great device. Do you see that as a staging challenge? Not at all. In fact, the device of Eugene as narrator/chronicler focuses the storytelling, and the set design Mr. Simon asks for locates the action in specific parts of the house which narrows down the staging possibilities. Also, this is a memory play even as it unfolds in teenage Eugenes present. Brighton Beach Memoirs is Eugenes notebook come to life. But since its a memoir, its already in the past. Eugene even speaks at times in the past tense. Because Eugene isnt present at every incident chronicled in the play obviously he imaginatively created some of the details, such as the Blanche/Nora scene in Act Two. So besides being the central character, Eugene is also an artist and creator, using fact to organize truthful fiction. Which is exactly what Neil Simon is doing as a playwright. What would you say would be the greatest challenge facing you as you go into rehearsals for Brighton Beach Memoirs? Rehearsals always focus on telling the truth; truth is difficult. Here we hope to develop family relationships that are very real and affectingtruthful. Ill be listening for the rhythm that the playwright gives each scene since Mr. Simons rhythms are essential in discovering the humor and the heart of the text.

Memory Play: a play which is told by a narrator in the present, looking into the past

What other plays, movies or television shows use narrators to tell the story? What do you like most about the script? That the play takes itself seriously, although its very funny. This production will do that as welltake the play seriously. The play moves me emotionally. I like the characters and want them to succeed and make strong choices. Mr. Simon has written: "I have been accused by critics of trying to sugarcoat the pain with laughter, but I never thought that was the case. I always thought the humor was the instrument I used to first reach people, and then, as an extension of the characters and stories, I would deliver the underlying issue, the pain that so many of us want to avoid at any cost." I like that.

Map of the lower half of Brooklyn

It your decision or mine. Who going to make s s it, Mother? Nora

What was Happening in 1937?


World Events: Amelia Earhart is lost in Pacific flight Hindenburg explodes Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco opens Entertainment: Disney Films releases Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Rodgers and Hart open the musical comedy Babes in Arms in New York Popular Songs: The Lady is a Tramp Whistle While You Work Its Nice Work if You Can Get It Ive got my Love to Keep me Warm Food: Spam and Krispy Kremes were invented Sports: New York Yankees(AL) wins World Series, 4-1, defeating New York Giants(NL) Popular Literature: John Steinbecks "Of Mice and Men" A. J. Cronins "The Citadel" What was happening in your hometown in the year 1937? Go to the library, surf the web or talk to people in the community about how things have changed in the past 65 years.

Red Ruffing, pitcher for the 1937 New York Yankees

Before the War


Before World War II Jewish families lived in diverse communities across Europe, many of which had been in existence since the 11th century. Many lived in shtetls (Jewish towns) others lived in larger urban centers. In countries like Lithuania and Poland, a vibrant Yiddish culture flourished with its own language, literature and traditions. After the Nazis assumed power in 1933, Jewish people in Germany and Austria began to face ever-increasing restrictions. In 1939 with the outbreak of World War II and the Nazi invasion of Eastern Europe, the Jewish populations of Poland, Lithuania and Romania came under control and anti-Jewish measures were applied. The following events took place in the year 1937: - Jewish students were expelled from German schools and Universities July 2 - Buchenwald, a German Concentration Camp, opened July 19 - Jews were contained in Germany by an act making Jewish passports invalid for international travel November 16

What would change in Brighton Beach Memoirs if it were set in 2002? What would stay the same?

I mean, if you give in when youre eighteen and a half, youll give in for the rest of your life, dont you think? Stanley

Fireside Chat
Franklin D. Roosevelt was the president of the United States from 1932 to 1945. During this time period, he instituted what became known as a Fireside Chat. He would give a speech on the radio about what was happening in the country and around the world and families would gather around the radio to listen. Here is an excerpt from one such speech dated October 12, 1937. I want our great democracy to be wise enough to realize that aloofness from war is not promoted by unawareness of war. In a world of mutual suspicions, peace must be affirmatively reached for. It cannot just be wished for. It cannot just be waited for... The development of civilization and of human welfare is based on the acceptance by individuals of certain fundamental decencies in their relations with each other. The development of peace in the world is dependent similarly on the acceptance by nations of certain fundamental decencies in their relations with each other. Ultimately, I hope each nation will accept the fact that violations of these rules of conduct are an injury to the well-being of all nations. Meanwhile, remember that from 1913 to 1921, I personally was fairly close to world events, and in that period, while I learned much of what to do, I also learned much of what not to do. The common sense, the intelligence of America agree with my statement that America hates war. America hopes for peace. Therefore, America actively engages in the search for peace.

Do you recognize yourself in any of the characters in Brighton Beach? Do you recognize anyone from your family?

President Franklin D. Roosevelt getting ready for a Fireside Chat, photo courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidental Library and Museum

Ive already buried someone I love. Now it time to bury someone I hate. s
Blanche

From the Costume Designer B. Modern


First and foremost, Brighton Beach Memoirs is a play about a real working-class family living through hard times during the Great Depression, and the costumes need to reflect that reality. The design process always begins with an in-depth conversation with the director to discuss his vision for the play and how each actor's clothing will help to illuminate their character for the audience. In this play, the family does not have much money and the father works hard at two jobs to make ends meet. The family is poor but not poverty stricken, and we communicate that by dressing them in clothing that is well worn but not ragged. They take a certain pride in their appearance and try hard to do the best with what they have. The costumes are as true as we can make them to the time and place, (New York, 1937) and as realistic as possible based on a great deal of careful research. Because each member of the family impressed me with great warmth and depth of character, I tried to utilize materials with lots of texture in rich, natural, earthy tones and the soft true blues of the eastern seaside...colors reflecting the loving warmth and life emanating from the little crowded house on a side street of Brighton Beach.

Illuminate: to make clear or explain

Rendering of Eugenes costume

Remember what Momma used to tell us. Stay on your own side of the street. That what they have gutters for. Kate s

From the Set Designer Erhard Rom


The director Tim Ocel and I decided very early on in the process, that we wanted the audience to experience the situation of this play realistically. The design therefore needed to follow, as closely as possible, realistic spatial arrangements. In order to achieve this, I took a trip to Brighton Beach where I studied the houses in the area. I got a sense of how the neighborhood was situated in relationship to both the city of New York and to the ocean. I was able to analyze the shapes of houses as well as the details that went into them. Many photographs were taken, and one of these will serve as a backdrop to the house in our production. It might have been possible to design the set without actually going to Brighton Beach, but when one is trying to recreate as closely as possible an actual location, nothing beats going to that location and really looking at it. The next step was to take all of the requirements of the script, and the requirements of the Geva Theatre space, and to try and make them all work together without distorting the reality of the space too much. It is really like solving a puzzle. What you have in the end is not truly realistic. Sightlines and other limitations pose too many problems. So what you end up with is a kind of theatrical realism.

This play is set in a very particular time and place and our set designer tried to bring elements of the area onto the stage. What do you see on stage that places you in a particular geographical location or time period?

Theatrical realism: a style that attempts to recreate real life

Model of Brighton Beach Memoirs; courtesy of Erhard Rom

Dont be so hard on yourself. That what youve got s a mother and father to do. Jack

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Glossary of Terms
Blenheim Castle - Located in Woodstock, England, near Oxford. Winston Churchill is buried there. Charitable - Generous in giving money or help to needy, tolerant or lenient in judging others. Clarence Darrow - The lawyer who argued in the famous Scopes trial in 1925, where a teacher was convicted of teaching evolution. Cossack - A member of a people of southern Russia. The men frequently served as cavalry during the time of the czars. Depriving - To take something away from, to prevent from having or enjoying. Irish Sweepstakes - A lottery created by the Irish government in 1930 to benefit Irish hospitals. It was promoted internationally. Ring Lardner - 1885-1933. He wrote baseball fiction and short stories and was a sportswriter as well. Principle - A general set of moral or ethical standards. Puberty - The stage in development in which reproductive organs become functional. In boys this usually occurs between the ages of 13-16, in girls, from 12-14. Sergeant - A noncommissioned officer in the Army, Air Force, or Marine Corp.

What do you think is next for the Jerome family? Take a moment to write a page about where we find the characters one year later.

Tell Us What You Think


We love to get letters from students about the plays they see at Geva. Tell us what you thought of the play, the production, the direction, the acting. Selected student responses are posted on our website, www.gevatheatre.org. Send your letters to Andrea Stoner, Associate Director of Education, c/o Geva Theatre, 75 Woodbury Boulevard, Rochester, NY 14607 or email them to astoner@gevatheatre.org.
A Group of Cossacks, photo courtsey of Yakov Golembiowski

How did the production elements lights, costumes, set, sound support or detract from the play? What would you have done differently? Why? What was useful in this study guide? Did any of this guide help you understand or enjoy the play? Did you have a favorite scene or moment in the play? Which was it and why? In your opinion, what is Brighton Beach Memoirs about? Would you recommend it to someone who hasnt seen it?

Brighton Beach Memoirs is told from Eugenes perspective. How would the story be different it we saw it through Lauries eyes or the Fathers?

To me good friends are strangers. But sisters are stisters. Kate

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Brighton Beach Memoirs Co-Producers


Democrat and Chronicle Flaum Management Company, Inc. IKON Office Solutions ServiceMaster of Rochester

Resources
Manbeck, John B. ed. The Neighborhoods of Brooklyn. New Haven Yale University Press, 1998. McCullough, David W. Brooklyn and How it Got That Way. New York: The Dial Press, 1983. Miller, Rita Seiden, ed. Brooklyn, U.S.A. New York: Brooklyn College Press, 1979. Richmond, John. Brooklyn, U.S.A. New York: Creative Age Press, 1946. Simon, Neil. The Play Goes On: A Memoir. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999. Simon, Neil. Rewrites: A Memoir. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996. Weld, Ralph Foster. Brooklyn Is America. New York: Columbia University Press, 1950. Willensky, Elliot. When Brooklyn Was the World. New York: Harmony Books, 1986.

Staff
Skip Greer Director of Education Andrea Stoner Associate Director of Education Shawnda Urie Education and Outreach Administrator Arthur Brown Christopher Gurr Conservatory Associates Marge Betley Literary Manager April Donahower Dramaturgy Fellow Mark Cuddy Artistic Director John Quinlivan Managing Director Nan Hildebrandt Executive Director

Education Partners
Major Support From:
ESL Federal Credit Union The Flanders Group Gannett Foundation The Leonard and Marion Simon Fund for Children Xerox Corporation

With Additional Support From:


American Express Financial Advisors Ames-Amzalak Charitable Trust BlueCross BlueShield of the Rochester Area Caldwell Manufacturing Co. Cornell/Weinstein Family Foundation Democrat and Chronicle Goldberg Berbeco Foundation Ann M. Mayer Mrs. Eleanor Morris NorthEastern Insulation Co., Inc. Dr. and Mrs. William H. Saunders, Jr. SUNY Brockport Wendys Restaurants of Rochester The Fred & Floy Willmott Foundation An Anonymous Donor Special Thanks to Amy Goeldner and Chris Murray

I guess there comes a time in everybody life when you say, this s very moment is the end of my childhood. When Stanley closed the door, I knew that moment had come to me. Eugene

Tickets Still Available

By Matthew Burnett Based on the novel by Thornton Wilder A Co-Production with Arena Stage in Washington D.C. April 10 th and 24 th
Recommended for High School Audiences

Call 232-Geva (4382)

75 Woodbury Boulevard Rochester, New York 14607 Box Office: 232-Geva Education Department: 232-1366, ext. 3058 www.gevatheatre.org