In Neil Simon's 1983 seriocomedy we meet Simon alter ego Eugene Jerome at age 15. Eugene dreams about becoming a great baseball player and has recently discovered the opposite sex. More crucial, he has begun to think about what writers do, which is to observe the world around them, then record what they see. How well this play works depends on how vividly a director and cast can impart the flavor of a struggling Jewish family in Brooklyn circa 1937. The look, feel, and sound of the production come foremost, followed closely by the performances of the actors. Are they believable, from appearance to mannerisms and accents? And how well can they walk the high wire between comedy and, in the case of the Jerome and Morton families, failure if not outright tragedy?
Director Darcy Lythgoe's cast fills the bill admirably, starting with Gedaly Guberek, who's 20 but can easily pass for five years younger. He's a winning smart aleck with dark, handsome looks, keeping an even keel on his character's laugh lines and on his more serious remarks. Julie Hommel's forceful performance as fiercely blunt matriarch Kate takes front and center. Leonard Joseph Dunham as dad Jack and Chris Greenwood as Stanley, Eugene's 17-year-old brother, not only resemble each other but they effect their characters' mutual admiration. Dunham reveals the tough, taciturn Jack's constant worry and bottling up of volcanic emotions. Greenwood depicts a big, likable guy who's everyone's pal. Lythgoe comes through with powerful work as elder cousin Nora (in the performance reviewed and on Dec. 7, in place of Melanie Gable) and gets nuanced portrayals from Eve Zappulla as Kate's widowed sister Blanche and Jessica Lynch as Blanche's prissy, brainy youngest daughter.
Presented by and at the Hunger Artists Theatre,
701 S. State College Blvd., Ste. 699-A, Fullerton.
Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. Nov. 30-Dec. 16.
(714) 680-6803. www.hungerartists.com.