MIT's 'Aesthetics'; 'Brighton Beach'; high-tech 'Icarus'; 'Jonestown'; Growing up in Brighton
With ''Brighton Beach Memoirs,'' Neil Simon has written an affectionate tribute to growing up in this New York town in 1937. The narrator and focus of this play is Mr. Simon's childhood self, Eugene (delightfully played by Jonathan Silverman), the resident baseball player, smart aleck, and chronicler of family traumas and witticisms. Eugene lives in an extended family jostling for independence, identity, and love under a small roof. Privacy is nonexistent, but there's always someone to talk to when trouble strikes.
And does trouble ever strike. This family has more calamities than Indiana Jones; it has illnesses, lost jobs, the burden of being a boarder, years-old jealousies. But each is met with fortitude, wry wit, and unsentimental love. When older brother Stanley (Mark Nelson) sidles home remorsefully after staying out all night, the mother (Joan Copeland) is relieved. She shows it by changing - not her expression - but her store order from a bit of sugar to two pounds, ''for a chocolate cake.''
It's a play about standing on principles vs. keeping a needed job, about dependency and cutting loose, about helping guide teen-agers through the rough seas of growing up. The parents, particularly the wise and observant father (Charles Cioffi), have some wonderful talks with their children.
Unlike most of Simons's 20 previous plays, ''Brighton Beach'' (sensitively directed by Gene Saks) is not a rapid-fire string of one-liners. With its madcap individuality mixed with a rich family life, it's more in the spirit of ''You Can't Take it With You.'' The play is not, however, bereft of Simonisms. ''Stay on your own side of the street, that's what they have gutters for,'' is one of many. Unfortunately, too many come out of a belabored gag between the two brothers about sex.
While the ending - the family eagerly compressing itself still further to make room for relatives fleeing Poland - is a bit saccharine, ''Brighton Beach'' is a tender and spunky play about the most enduring of human institutions. At the Colonial Theatre through June 30.