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Paul Bunyan Playhouse to show Neil Simon's serious side in 'Brighton Beach Memoirs'

Performances of “Brighton Beach Memoirs” will be at 7:30 p.m. on June 17, 18, 23, 24 and 25, and at 2 p.m. on June 19 and 22.

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Paul Bunyan Playhouse members Kendall Kent, left, and Gabi Jones rehearse a scene from their upcoming production of “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” which opens at 7:30 p.m. on June 17, at the Chief Theater in downtown Bemidji.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI — Neil Simon’s work isn’t all about comedy.

Starting on Friday, the Paul Bunyan Playhouse will present Simon’s semi-autobiographical “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” in its second of five productions at the Historic Chief Theater in downtown Bemidji.

Playhouse director Jim Williams calls it one of Simon’s best plays.

“Prior to this he wrote comedies like “The Odd Couple” and “Last of the Red Hot Lovers,” Williams said, “so he was known primarily as a comic writer. But when this show opened, audiences and critics saw that Simon could not only write comedy but could also write drama and combine them both.”

“Brighton Beach Memoirs” is the first in a trilogy of plays on the life of Eugene Morris Jerome. The next two were “Biloxi Blues” and “Broadway Bound.”

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Paul Bunyan Playhouse members Abigail Vogeler, left, and Kendall Kent rehearse a scene from their upcoming production of “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” which opens at 7:30 p.m. on June 17, at the Chief Theater in downtown Bemidji.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

“It’s a coming-of-age story as seen through the eyes of the main character, Eugene,” Williams said. “He’s always dreaming of baseball and girls as his primary objectives at this point in his life.

"It’s the story of a lower-middle-class Jewish family as seen through the eyes of Eugene. So some of it is a little exaggerated, and some of it is realistic. It’s really about how the family, in addition to the in-laws, who are also living with them, all the little conflicts and joys that come up day by day.”

The cast of seven is led by Tristen Weldon as Eugene, who is preoccupied with his passion for the New York Yankees and his lust for his beautiful cousin. It’s Weldon’s third time on stage for the Paul Bunyan Playhouse. Last year he portrayed Igor in “Young Frankenstein.”

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Paul Bunyan Playhouse members Kendall Kent, left, and Jason Sekili rehearse a scene from their upcoming production of “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” which opens at 7:30 p.m. on June 17, at the Chief Theater in downtown Bemidji.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

The cast also features Jason Sekili as Stanley Jerome, Eugene's older brother; Gabrielle Jones as Blanche Morton, Eugene's widowed aunt; Kaitlin Johnson as Nora Morton, Eugene's older cousin; Abigail Vogeler as Laurie Morton, Eugene's younger cousin; Kendall Kent as Kate Jerome, Eugene's mother; and Matthew Saxe as Jack Jerome, Eugene's father.

Williams expects audiences to enjoy the work of Kent as the strong matriarch of the family.

"She’s a no-nonsense woman who cares much about her family, but is always trying to put out fires all over the place,” he said.

Performances of “Brighton Beach Memoirs” will be at 7:30 p.m. on June 23, 24 and 25, and at 2 p.m. on June 22.

Tickets are $25 or $15 for students with a valid ID. Single show tickets, season tickets and flex passes are available online at thechieftheater.com or at the Chief Theater box office.

Related Topics: THEATER
Dennis Doeden, former publisher of the Bemidji Pioneer, is a feature reporter. He is a graduate of Metropolitan State University with a degree in Communications Management.
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