Our Current 2018-2019 Season:

Our Current 2018-2019 Season:

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Jason Wilhoite Loves the Family Dynamic of Let Nothing You Dismay

Jason Wilhoite as Leonard, a Jet's Pizza delivery guy who is the "baby daddy" in Let Nothing You Dismay
PHOTO by Jim Kelly

Let Nothing You Dismay truly puts the “fun” in a dysfunctional family!  The Gordon and Saperstein families collide over the expected birth of a baby on Christmas Day.  At the center of the chaos are adoptive parents Allie and Kevin, whose plans for a “cozy couple’s Christmas” are derailed when their extended families show up uninvited at the hospital.  In the Farmington Players production, Jason Wilhoite plays adoptive father Kevin. As Jason says, “Kevin and Allie are forced to balance the stresses of becoming parents in somewhat uncommon fashion and that balance is at the center of the story. I love the well-crafted dialog of the show’s open and getting the chance to collaborate with another actor back and forth as we set the stage for what’s about to unfold. It’s so important to create the chemistry between Kevin and Allie from the very first look.”
Like all actors in this crazy farce, Jason plays multiple roles.  In addition to Kevin, Jason says, “I also play Leonard, who is ‘the baby daddy!’ But I really love that he is so much more than that. While Leonard and Lizzie face an all too common situation of an unexpected baby before they are truly ready, the couple makes the brave and loving choice of adoption. I really want to share the love and connection Leonard and Lizzie have for each other and the great gift they give to this very appreciative pair who will welcome their baby boy into a crazy and loving family.”

Jason enumerates the themes of this show as “family, imperfection, forgiveness, admiration, second chance, and renewed hope. The fabric of this show is extremely complex. Much like the relationships of any family, we see the multidimensional and changing-on-dime emotions that come from a group who call themselves a family. What I truly love about the story is that it is not a family based on traditional blood connections alone, but extended to those we choose to make part of our family. It’s really beautiful to be reminded that a family is greater than just siblings and parents; it’s about those who support you, those who inspire you and care for you, no matter what the situation. I’m blessed to be part of this kind of family off stage and I’m honored to share this onstage family with our patrons.”

Jason knows this show will resonate with audiences because “we all have families. However you personally choose to interpret a ‘family’ is your choice, but we have people we love and respect and who make the world bearable just having them around you. The holidays always seen to remind me of that truth and this show beautifully brings that message to life. The complexity of family and the dynamics we share with people who have lived with us through those life moments of triumph and sadness is an immeasurable gift. This show celebrates those gifts and brings us a truthful modern American family in a loving, personal and accessible way. I’m sure our audiences will leave the theatre in laughter and gladness and perhaps even with a warm tear welling in their eyes.”

Jason feels a special connection to Let Nothing You Dismay because he was part of the team who selected this show for the Barn’s season.  And, on a personal note, he says, “Ironically, my little sister is pregnant and expecting her first baby. She’s due in December and I look forward to being on the other side of the story in real life.”

Let Nothing You Dismay has 10 performances at the Farmington Players Barn Theater from November 30 – December 15.  The show is proudly sponsored by Weinstein Jewelers.  Tickets are available online at farmingtonplayers.org or by emailing boxoffice@farmingtonplayers.org or calling the Barn box office at 248-553-2955.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Gary Weinstein Shines Like a Diamond in Let Nothing You Dismay

Gary Weinstein as the befuddled Milford Gordon
PHOTO by Laurie Smalis

Let Nothing You Dismay is the story of two families that collide – then unite – over the adoption of a baby born on Christmas Day.  Adoptive parents Kevin and Allie plan to have a “cozy couple’s Christmas” while they await the birth of their child, but their plans unravel when the hospital is overrun by their extended families, who just couldn’t stay away.  Family takes on many forms in today’s modern society, and for Gary Weinstein, his Farmington Players “family” has an important place in his life.  As Gary says, “the level of talent and quality of performance that this theater brings to their stage has the feeling of family which is superior to any other. This show in particular has brought out some true thespians that are willing to take on this unknown theatrical work, which requires the highest level of discipline for the different characters that each actor will portray.”

Ten actors play 25 roles in this crazy farce, and the characters and costumes change ever more rapidly as the play progresses.  Like most actors, Gary plays three different roles, which he describes as follows: “Milford is 80 years old, a man in pursuit of his own unspoken tasks.  He’s a crotchety, gruff old man who wants to be left alone to do his own thing. …  Ivan is Bulgarian with a comedic use of the English language.  I play Ivan as a strong ‘bouncer type’ with wide shoulders, arms folded, and mostly with a scowl on my face. … Oscar is married to Linda and the loving father of Allie. He’s Jewish with his own comedic Jewish inflections.”

In addition to acting in this show, Gary’s Weinstein Jewelers is also the proud sponsor of the play.  In his usual fashion, Gary has a special promotion planned for patrons who attend the show.  Each winner of the 50/50 raffle drawing will also receive a $50 gift card to Weinstein Jewelers!  In addition, on closing night, all 10 prior 50/50 winners will be entered into a drawing for an additional gift card worth $1,000.00!!!   With performances scheduled from November 30 – December 15, these gift cards come just in time for holiday shopping.

Gary knows audiences will love this show because it’s “a laugh a minute, yet touches many of life’s daily experiences and challenges as it relates to family. The themes of this show are best described as life’s simplest lessons:  Family unity, life longevity and having children in the modern family.”  When Gary first read this script, “I found myself laughing out loud. As I got into it further into it, I was intrigued and excited for the possibilities and challenges of portraying three distinct characters in the same show.” Gary thanks director Tony Targan and assistant director Michel Noble for their “clear-headed communication and commitment to detail of each character for this production.”

Gary’s most recent roles at the barn have included William Blore in And Then There Were None, Ed Noonan in The Vast Difference, Tony in The Full Monty, Mr. Van Daan in The Diary of Anne Frank, Robert in Boeing Boeing, and Dr. Einstein in Arsenic & Old Lace.

Let Nothing You Dismay has 10 performances at the Farmington Players Barn Theater from November 30 – December 15.  The show is proudly sponsored by Weinstein Jewelers.  Tickets are available online at farmingtonplayers.org or by emailing boxoffice@farmingtonplayers.org or calling the Barn box office at 248-553-2955.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Cynthia Tupper Tackles Bucket List Roles in Let Nothing You Dismay

Cynthia Tupper as the irascible Bubbie with Gary Weinstein as Milford
PHOTO by Laurie Smalis

Long-time Barn member Cynthia Tupper has done it all when it comes to her theater accomplishments at the Farmington Players, including directing 15 shows, serving on the Board for 18 years, and costuming 73 shows!  So it might surprise you to hear that Let Nothing You Dismay helps fulfill a bucket list wish:  “The challenge of playing multiple roles has always been on my theatrical bucket list.”   Cynthia’s three characters are as diverse and multi-faceted as she is.  Her primary role is Charlotte, who she describes as a “free spirited new age force to be reckoned with.  Although she left her children, who were raised by their father, she is just starting to rebuild her relationship with her family. She is absolutely confident in the wisdom she believes she has attained in following her own path. The bigness of her personality is expressed in the drama of her voice and gestures.”  As the play unfolds, Cynthia says, “Charlotte experiences a new found respect from some of the family members who used to scoff at her as an aging hippie. It is very satisfying to see the arc of her character change during the course of the play.”
Cynthia also plays Noreen, a kooky nun that bursts onstage and “gives the audience a taste of the chaos that is about to begin!”  Cynthia says that “being raised Catholic and attending parochial school for two years gives me personal insight into Noreen the nun. Previously I played Mother Superior in Nunsense, who was the Irish traditional strict nun. However, Noreen is the complete opposite as she is a modern energetic nun with a cheerful outlook who ‘always looks on the bright side of life’!”  Last but not least is Bubbie, the 84-year-old Jewish grandmother who loves to complain about everything.  Cynthia sees Bubbie as “a combination of my experiences working in the New York garment district where my Brooklyn accent was learned. I also worked with a real life Bubbie at Saks Fifth Avenue…also known as Goldie. This wonderful woman taught me ‘how to make a brisket that will melt in your mouth!’ Bubbie is a rare combination of chutzpah, attitude and a big heart and whose outspokenness is legendary.”
Let Nothing You Dismay reexamines what it means to be a family. In reflecting on the themes of the show, Cynthia says, “for many people their families include a strong network of friends. Especially for someone like me, who is a child of a child of an only child. Although my husband has a brother and a sister, our family is by no means huge. So our close friends and our Barn family are definitely part of our extended family. The show celebrates diversity and includes adoption as an important option. This play definitely takes a page from the television show Modern Family with its mixed bag of big personalities and humorous chaos.  It’s a new fast-paced and funny family friendly Christmas show to be enjoyed by all.”
Let Nothing You Dismay has 10 performances at the Farmington Players Barn Theater from November 30 – December 15.  The show is proudly sponsored by Weinstein Jewelers.  Tickets are available online at farmingtonplayers.org or by emailing boxoffice@farmingtonplayers.org or calling the Barn box office at 248-553-2955.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Ansley Barnard Helps Put the Fun in Dysfunctional Family Farce

Ansley Barnard (kneeling) as Kaitlyn struggles with a bassinet as adoptive parents
Allie (Shalya Curran) and Kevin (Jason Wilhoite) look on, during early rehearsals.
PHOTO: Laurie Smalis

In Let Nothing You Dismay, adoptive parents Kevin and Allie await the birth of their child on Christmas Day.  Against their wishes, their extended families descend on the hospital to welcome the new addition.  Eight actors play 22 roles in this crazy holiday farce, which makes its Midwest premiere at the Farmington Players (November 30 – December 15).  Ansley Barnard plays three roles, and she has clearly put a lot of thought into each of her characters: 
Kaitlyn is easily discounted as a dumb blonde and is often ignored or put down by other people.  While she can be a bit silly, mostly she's loving, helpful and hardworking.  She wants everyone to feel as happy as she does and strongly believes in the importance of family.  Playing Kaitlyn is a joy because of her never-ending enthusiasm. …
“Brianna is quite mysterious. Playing her is an interesting challenge in movement because she spends a lot of time on stage without speaking.  She is someone that will make an immediate impression on someone, but also fades into the background unnoticed.  It's a tricky balance.  I take inspiration for Brianna's character from the most eccentric artists I've met and enjoy bringing out her dramatic side.  Brianna can be severe and sarcastic, but she finds endless amusement in the pitfalls of other people's lives. …  
“Angela is a fun character to play because she's almost completely unlikable.  I want the audience to see her the way her sister Allie does: selfish, domineering, and arrogant.  But Angela is also someone that refuses to settle, and I like that about her.  Even though she's abrasive, she is productive and driven.  As with all the characters in the show, Angela is trying to keep her family on track even if her priorities are somewhat questionable.”
The predominant theme of Let Nothing You Dismay is family, and the extended Gordon and Sapperstein families definitely put the "fun" in "dysfunctional"!  Ansley thinks “LNYD will showcase that sort of crazy loving relationship. My husband and I got married this year, and I can relate to Kevin and Allie's experience blending their families.  Luckily our families are not this intense, but there's always a little apprehension when you bring everyone together for a big event.  You just can't plan for everything.”  She knows audiences will love this show because “everyone has found themselves in an awkward family event at least once.  There's at least one character in the show that will remind you of someone you know and hopefully you'll laugh along with us.”  The cast has definitely enjoyed itself during rehearsals, and keeping a straight face can be challenging.  As Ansley says, “I'll often start laughing in rehearsal when one of the actors nails a good line or brings something new to their character.  I think audiences will pick up on how much fun we are having and make it a fun experience for them.”
2018 has been a whirlwind year for Ansley.  In addition to getting married, she traveled to Italy and Japan, and performed in two Barn shows (Into the Woods).  She comes from a family of professional actors, and is returning to the stage after a 10-year hiatus to focus on her engineering career.  Originally from the west coast, Ansley moved to Michigan four years ago to work in the auto industry.  She used to design and test bodywork for IndyCar, and now works in software.  But her most out-of-this-world experience was last year while “pursuing my teenage dream of becoming an astronaut.”  Ansley served as an “analogue astronaut for a program called HI-SEAS.  It's a NASA-funded Martian analogue mission to study … the psychological challenges of being isolated and confined for years at a time for these longer missions.  Six of us were selected to live in isolation for eight months in a remote dome-shaped habitat on the side of Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii.  The geography is desolate and we didn't leave the habitat except wearing protective suits.  We had no phones, no Internet, and no live communication with other people.  It was unlike any other place I've ever been and it was both as special and as difficult as you might imagine.”
Let Nothing You Dismay has 10 performances at the Farmington Players Barn Theater from November 30 – December 15.  The show is proudly sponsored by Weinstein Jewelers.  Tickets are available online at farmingtonplayers.org or by emailing boxoffice@farmingtonplayers.org or calling the Barn box office at 248-553-2955.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Jack Jerome Interviews Tony Targan: An Inside Look at Brighton Beach Memoirs

Jack Jerome (left) interviews Tony Targan (right) about Tony's portrayal of Jack
In Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs, the patriarch of the household is Jack Jerome, an empathetic character who works two jobs to support his family. With four teenagers, his wife, and his widowed sister-in-law under one roof, it’s challenging, to say the least.  When his son Stanley says, “Pop, I have a problem,” Jack replies, “If you didn’t, you wouldn’t live in this house.”   I recently sat down to talk to Jack, but he quickly turned the tables on me, making me the subject of my own interview! ­­­

Tony:   Jack, I have to tell you that is a real pleasure to portray you in the Farmington Players’ production of Brighton Beach Memoirs.

Jack:    It’s not as easy as it looks, is it?

Tony:    That’s true.  It’s challenging to play a character that is weary and physically ailing most of the time, and yet has to project such energy, emotion, and anger.

Jack:     Yeah, well, you seem to have the anger part down pretty good.  That’s quite a temper you’ve got.

Tony:    As my mother Arleen once told me, “You’ve got a lot of patience … until it runs out.”

Jack:     Patience is not one of our virtues, my friend.

Tony:    I can relate.  It’s hard dealing with four teenagers and two middle-aged sisters under one roof.  And yet Jack finds a way to commiserate with everything his family is going through.  As Jack often says, “I know what it’s like.”  Your empathy is very genuine.

Jack:     You have to strive to set a good example, but also give your family – and yourself – permission not to be perfect.

Tony:    Well said.

Jack:     So, Tony, tell me how you go about connecting with my character?  

Tony:    When I talk about Jack’s brother Michael, who died in the war, I hold his Army picture.  I decided to make it more personal by using an actual photo of my father Barry when he was a young Army private during the Korean War.

Jack:     Nice touch.   Did other family members influence your character’s development?

Tony:   I like to model Jack after my grandfather Albert Targan.  A Russian Jew, he emigrated here in the early 1900s, and was orphaned at a young age.  Despite little schooling, he worked hard as a grocer to provide for his family – a wife and three boys – and he knew that education was their way to a better life.  Both my uncles served in the Navy in World War Two, and both went on to become lawyers. My father has a PhD in English Literature and is a writer and retired college professor.

Jack:    Besides family, what other themes of Brighton Beach Memoirs are still relevant today?

Tony:   In the play, Jack worries about his European relatives on the eve of WWII, saying, “If you’re Jewish, you’ve got a cousin suffering somewhere in the world.”  America has always been a safe haven.  If my grandparents and other Jewish relatives did not escape Eastern Europe to seek asylum in America, none of my family would be alive today.  We are a nation of immigrants, most of whom came to America to flee persecution or seek religious freedom.  And yet many people still want to bar the door to new immigrants, or have prejudices against anyone who is different than themselves.

Jack:   Last question:  The Jerome family lives in Brooklyn in 1937.  Like many families during the Great Depression, we were poor and had our share of family drama.  What makes our family so special that people will want to come see Brighton Beach Memoirs?

Tony:   Brighton Beach Memoirs is a semi-autobiographical reflection on the life of its author, the recently departed Neil Simon.  The structure of the play is compelling as the young Eugene Jerome narrates his dreams and desires directly to the audience in comedic fashion.  The family dynamic pits spouses and siblings against each other, and yet, despite all the strain, the family’s ties are ultimately strengthened.  It’s a poignant family drama … Plus, it’s just a really funny show!

Brighton Beach Memoirs has 3 remaining performances at the Farmington Players Barn Theater from October 11 – 13.  The show is proudly sponsored by Mall Malisow & Cooney.  Tickets are available online at farmingtonplayers.org or by emailing boxoffice@farmingtonplayers.org or calling the Barn box office at 248-553-2955.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Pamela Martin Finds Beauty in Kate’s Vulnerability in Brighton Beach Memoirs

Kate (Pamela Martin, right) has a complicated relationship with her sister Blanche (Nancy Cooper, left)
as husband Jack (Tony Targan) tries to keep the peace.
PHOTO by Paul Manoian

The famous Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw once wrote, “Those who can, do; those who can't, teach.”   With all due respect to Mr. Shaw, he never saw Pamela Martin act!   Pamela has been teaching drama since 1991 as a Drama Specialist at Cranbrook Schools, Brookside Elementary.  And if you see her performance in Brighton Beach Memoirs at the Farmington Players, you will know right away that she can definitely act!  Pamela’s character Kate Jerome is the wife of Jack Jerome, the sister of Blanche, the aunt of Nora and Laurie, and the mother to Eugene and Stanley.   As Pamela says, “I truly enjoy playing Kate because she is a very formidable Jewish mother who really has a deep care and concern for her family. She is a ‘workhorse’ and she is very tightly wound. Above all, she wants to keep the peace.  She is a problem solver who tries to tackle every family issue and tries to fix all of the family problems.”  And in the Jerome family, there are plenty of problems to fix!  As Kate so eloquently puts it, “you inherit a family, you inherit their problems.”

Family is the central theme of Brighton Beach Memoirs.  Pamela sees Kate as strong, yet vulnerable, when dealing with each family member.   As she observes, “There is a theme of dignity for each character. The collective dignity must be brought together. It is the family.  Kate is the protector and lioness yet she is very vulnerable. There is a beauty to Kate’s vulnerability. I can see myself in Kate from the outside as having a rather tightly wound disposition at times but inside, I too have a great love for my family and I can also be quite vulnerable.”  This vulnerability really comes out in her scenes with her younger sister Blanche, played by Nancy Cooper.   Pamela says that Kate has “a special yet complicated relationship with her younger sister, Blanche. My challenge with playing Kate is that I need to balance her frustration and control with her great love, compassion and understanding and give the audience a glance as to why Kate is Kate.”

Pamela has always loved Brighton Beach Memoirs and Neil Simon is one of her favorite playwrights:  “The way he builds a scene -- one moment you are laughing hysterically the next you are wiping away tears -- pure perfection. Also, I like the fact that this was an autobiographical play based on Neil Simon’s own family. (He being the Eugene role of course.)” Audiences also love the show because “there is something that will resonate with everyone. Whether it be a character, scene, monologue, or dramatic pause, Mr. Simon’s work is brilliant.  Brighton Beach is as much relevant today as it was back in 1937 because it is about family.  And as Kate says, “This is a family. The world cannot survive without families.”   Pamela has enjoyed connecting with her new Barn family as well:  “I am thrilled to be a member of the Farmington Players family and I adore acting with my very talented Brighton Beach family.  I hope everyone enjoys the show!”

Brighton Beach Memoirs has 7 remaining performances at the Farmington Players Barn Theater through October 13.  The show is proudly sponsored by Mall Malisow & Cooney.  Tickets are available online at farmingtonplayers.org or by emailing boxoffice@farmingtonplayers.org or calling the Barn box office at 248-553-2955.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Nancy Cooper’s Blanche Blossoms in Brighton Beach Memoirs

Nancy Cooper (right) as Blanche Morton with her stage sister
Pamela Martin (left) as Kate Jerome
PHOTO:  Paul Manoian

Of all the characters in Brighton Beach Memoirs – Neil Simon’s semi-autobiographical play about a Jewish family in 1930s Brooklyn – Blanche Morton experiences the greatest transformation.  In the Farmington Players production (opening September 28), Barn veteran Nancy Cooper plays her opposite in Blanche.  As Nancy says, “playing Blanche allows me to demonstrate a different side of myself. I consider myself to be a strong, determined, self-reliant person, and Blanche is quite the opposite. She lives at the mercy of other people, and is dependent for her living. She is insecure about her abilities as a mother, and about her worth as a woman. I have had the same insecurities at different times in my life, and have to tap into those feelings, which for me are quite uncomfortable.”  However, during the course of the play, “Blanche confronts her insecurities and truly grows as a person. That is the type of character development all actors long to portray!”

Brighton Beach Memoirs is the 18th Neil Simon play performed by the Farmington Players, and although Nancy is a long-time member, this is the first time she’s been in one of his productions.  As she says, “I have always admired Neil Simon’s work. I love the way he writes in such a natural flow of speech for an actor, and his characters are fully developed and well-rounded.”  Director Maureen Mansfield believes “this play is about the humanity, compassion, virtues and failings of the very real characters onstage and the constant collision of love, anxiety, fear and frustration that shapes their relationships. No matter who you are or what your family is like, there is something about this show you can relate to.  It will hit close to home and open your eyes as to what your family truly means to you.”

Nancy echoes the play’s “family ties,” saying “the strongest theme for me in this play is ‘family sticks together.’ No matter what happens to you, you know that family is always going to be there. You may lose a job, or even lose a spouse, but nothing is too big that family can’t help you through. I have always found this to be true in my own life. I have experienced many up and downs, many successes and many losses, and at the end of the day, it is always my family that is standing by my side.”  Nancy believes family is the reason that Brighton Beach Memoirs is still relevant today, “because it is about family, and family is always relevant. The topics of growing up and becoming who we are meant to be will always be relevant.”

Brighton Beach Memoirs has 10 performances at Farmington Players Barn Theater from September 28 – October 13.  The show is proudly sponsored by Mall Malisow & Cooney.  Tickets are available online at farmingtonplayers.org or by emailing boxoffice@farmingtonplayers.org or calling the Barn box office at 248-553-2955.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Hannah Weinraub Chases Broadway Dreams as Nora in Brighton Beach

Hannah Weinraub as Nora glamming for the camera with sister Laurie (Meilin Hilton)
PHOTO by Paul Manoian

Sisters can be best friends, but they can also be rivals for their parents’ attention and affection.  This is especially true in Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs, where teenage sisters Nora and Laurie struggle with the loss of their father, and vie for the approval of their widowed mother Blanche.  In the Farmington Players production of Brighton Beach Memoirs, Hannah Weinraub plays Nora, who she describes as a “very ambitious, bright and mature 16 year-old girl who dreams of being a dancer on Broadway.”  Like Hannah, Nora is “very close in age, has one sibling and shares similar dreams” of a theater career.  Hannah says, “I enjoy so many things about playing this role. First off, Nora is incredibly dramatic. She spends a lot of time during the show getting emotional and crying. As an actress, crying on stage is always a blast.”

To relate to her character, Hannah has had to “draw from my own personal experiences of feeling like I’m not enough. It isn’t really fun to go back to those feelings, but it has helped me realize that everyone feels like that about themselves. It is our job to choose whether or not we believe that.  Along with that, a relevant theme in Brighton Beach is inner peace.”   Peace is often hard to come by in the Jerome family, with seven people – including four teenagers – living in cramped quarters under one roof.  Hannah can relate to the fact that “everyone has family drama, and this play shows the inner workings of a family with quite a bit of it.” Director Maureen Mansfield echoes this theme: “No matter who you are or what your family is like, there is something about this show you can relate to.  It will hit close to home and open your eyes as to what your family truly means to you. Families still worry about unemployment, war overseas and keeping a roof overhead.  Puberty still hits, siblings still argue and families still support ... despite the setting, the issues are the same.”

Hannah knows audiences will love this show, saying, “I have never been apart of something so eye opening. Brighton Beach Memoirs shows audiences the true importance of being there for your family and also being there for yourself. Although there is a bit of serious material, the show is mostly a comedy with a dramatic flare. Honestly you’ll feel every emotion watching this show. Each character has a metamorphosis during the show. They each try to find their inner peace, which makes this show so extremely special.”  

Hannah calls Farmington Hills home and discovered her love of performing with the entertainment group, The Earth Angels. She appeared in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever in 2016, and says, “I am so excited to be back on the Barn stage, especially with such a great group of people. Getting to know this cast and crew is an absolute joy.”

Brighton Beach Memoirs has 10 performances at Farmington Players Barn Theater from September 28 – October 13.  The show is proudly sponsored by Mall Malisow & Cooney.  Tickets are available online at farmingtonplayers.org or by emailing boxoffice@farmingtonplayers.org or calling the Barn box office at 248-553-2955.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Grayson Kennedy Puts Family First as Eugene in Brighton Beach Memoirs

Grayson Kennedy as Eugene Morris Jerome
PHOTO by Paul Manoian
Brighton Beach Memoirs is Neil Simon’s semi-autobiographical tale about growing up in a Jewish family in 1930s Brooklyn. In Frank Rich’s New York Times review of the original 1983 Broadway production, he observed: “Far more than most Simon plays, ‘Brighton Beach Memoirs’ deals explicitly with the Jewishness of its people. While one might fear that this development could lead to caricature, it generally does not. Mr. Simon's characters - the seven members of the extended Jerome family of Brighton Beach - are, for all their archetypal manners, appealing. Even though Mr. Simon is trying to come to terms with his less-than-rosy Depression adolescence, he looks back not with anger but with an affection that is too warm to be fake.”

In the Farmington Players production, Grayson Kennedy plays 15 year-old Eugene Jerome, presumably the character modeled after a young Mr. Simon.  Eugene also serves as the plays narrator, frequently breaking the fourth wall to address the audience, to great comedic effect.  Grayson describes his character Eugene as “a typical, horny teen boy being raised in an impoverished Jewish family in the late 1930s. I relate a lot to Eugene in many ways; being the youngest of a family and growing up without money. Sharing these similarities with Eugene have helped me fully understand and emulate his problems on stage.” 

Director Maureen Mansfield describes Brighton Beach Memoirs as “a coming of age story with many themes. Most of all, Brighton Beach Memoirs is about family.  A family with bonds that are intense and unbreakable despite the wrinkles of real life.  A family that faces adversity but instead of having it tear them down, they find a way to have it bring them closer together.”  Family is also of paramount importance to Grayson, who says, “Growing up, I have always been tethered to my mother; she always offered me a shoulder to cry on, and no matter how angry I made her she was always there to help me. In recent years the roles have reversed as I now take care of her after her stroke. Without her, I don’t know where I’d be today. I’d be nowhere without my family.”

Grayson knows that audiences will relate to Brighton Beach Memoirs because “it’s flat-out hilarious. Neil Simon has masterfully crafted a realistic, hard-hitting family drama without sparing us of his trademark laughs. The cast and creative team is committed to putting on a great show, and I believe audiences will recognize that.” Grayson is entering his senior year at Grosse Pointe South High School and plans to pursue a BFA in acting next year. When he’s not on stage, Grayson says, “I work as a dishwasher at Jumps Bistro and take care of my mother. So far Brighton Beach has been an absolute dream, and my on stage family is really starting to feel like a real one.”

Brighton Beach Memoirs has 10 performances at Farmington Players Barn Theater from September 28 – October 13.  The show is proudly sponsored by Mall Malisow & Cooney.  Tickets are available online at farmingtonplayers.org or by emailing boxoffice@farmingtonplayers.org or calling the Barn box office at 248-553-2955.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Mei Shows the Way: Playing a 1930s Girl in Brighton Beach Memoirs

Meilin Hilton interviewed by Tony Targan in the Barn lobby
Mei (18) plays 13 year-old Laurie

In the Farmington Players production of Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs, the audience is transported back in time to 1937 Brooklyn.  The world is on the verge of World War II, the USA is in the midst of the Depression, and an extended Jewish family of seven people lives in close quarters, struggling to make ends meet.  The youngest of the play’s characters is Laurie, a 13-year-old girl, played by Meilin Hilton, who goes by Mei (“May”). I recently sat down with Mei, and she so impressed me with her maturity and intellect, that I wanted to share our entire conversation.

Tony:  “Mei, tell me about Laurie.  What makes her tick, and why do you enjoy playing her?”

Mei:   “Laurie is a girl who has had ‘flutters’ in her heart, and consequently is given special treatment by the family because of this. While I do believe that she is truly sick, I also suspect that she sits rather comfortably in her ailment and uses it to her advantage, choosing to spend her time laying down and studying up on her schoolwork instead of helping out around the house. This is rather easy because I myself have had quite a few health problems over the years, so I can personally understand the stress it puts on both the family and on Laurie herself.”

Tony:  “What is it like for a young woman from the 21st century to play a young girl from the 1930s?”

Mei:  “This role presents a challenge to me because a 13-year-old in the 1930s is akin to about a 10-year-old in today’s world, and it’s one of the first roles where I’ve had to play to someone so much younger than me. On that same front, I’m finding that it’s actually quite fun to play a younger character, especially when interacting with my sister and my cousins in the show; the simultaneously argumentative and loving dynamic is so fun to play with. Laurie is someone that I’m very excited to explore and develop - especially because she’s a little mischievous.”

Tony:  “What are the major themes of Brighton Beach Memoirs?”

Mei:  “The obvious theme that everyone can relate to is family - a common thread running through almost all of Neil Simon’s works. In this play, I spot many moments that are recognizable in my own household: the meaningless sibling and spousal quarrels, the likeliness of parents to stress over how to ‘make it all work,’ finding your family member to confide in, and the truly serious drama that tears us apart but brings us together in the end. Family in this show is a driving force of not only the plot, but also a driving force for the characters and overarching themes. I think it’s also a reminder that we all have a slightly crazy family, when it really comes down to it.”

Tony:  “Okay, if ‘family’ is an obvious theme, dig deeper.  What else is the play about to you?”

Mei:  “Vulnerability.  When we are introduced to each character we see them on a surface level: Jack is a hard worker, Eugene is a writer, Kate is a busybody, etc. However, as the play progresses, we see so much deeper into the motives and emotions of the characters and why they present themselves the way they do. Each family member has one or two pivotal moments in the show where they’re just completely vulnerable and exposed, where they lay everything out on the table for the audience (and their family members) to see. It can be amusing, such as when Eugene and Stan talk openly about their sexual experiences, or in Kate’s case it can be more dramatic and soul-baring. Either way, I think anyone in the audience can relate to the intimate emotions that end up being portrayed by the members of the cast, or at the very least can recall a time where they themselves let down their guard to show how they truly felt.”

Tony:  “Brighton Beach Memoirs takes place over 80 years ago.  How will today’s audiences relate?”

Mei:  “Neil Simon does such a wonderful job at making his shows timeless because he includes so many themes that people can relate to: love, heartbreak, prejudice, the future, family, coming-of-age, war, and most notably, struggle. These are concepts that audiences will respond to time and again, especially when presented in such a raw fashion in so many different characters. I also think that seeing these characters struggle the way they do but still come out laughing, loving each other so strongly and being so generous with one another will make viewers sort of fall in love with the family throughout the show.  Neil Simon creates such a wonderful balance between comedy and drama that I’m convinced audiences will be intrigued from the beginning to the very end. I also believe that any person watching this show can relate to at least one of the characters, and sympathize with the family dynamic as a whole — there is someone for everyone in Brighton Beach Memoirs.”

Tony: “I know you usually do musicals.  Why did you want to be in this play?”

Mei:  “I mainly wanted to be in Brighton Beach Memoirs due to the fact that the script was so gripping - from my first read I couldn’t put the thing down. Also, I was in love with the idea of a seven-person cast: when playing to a family dynamic, it’s so important for the cast to get close and comfortable with one another, and I truly was excited to gain a second family through the course of this show. Furthermore, I love period shows, and I was intrigued by the challenge of playing a) a younger character, b) a character with a Jewish Brooklyn accent, c) a character who is Jewish at the brink of World War II, and d) a girl growing up in the period of the 1930s. At auditions this seemed like an impossible mountain to climb and now, seeing Laurie come to life has been so rewarding and exciting for me as an actress. I am honestly just ecstatic to show audience members this amazing thing we’re building together. I think it’s really going to touch people.”

Tony:   “What are you passionate about in life?”

Mei:  “I’m pretty simple: I love listening to theatre, watching theatre, learning about theatre, and of course, performing in the theatre. Consequently, I’ve become kind of a bookworm throughout the years - I think the only way I can grow as an artist is to observe and learn about people as much as I can. It’s my job to listen and watch as much as it is to act. I’m going to be a freshman at the University of Michigan this fall where I’ll take on a full courseload of pre-med studies, which also happens to be one of my passions... I suppose I enjoy helping people as much as I enjoy playing them.”

Brighton Beach Memoirs has 10 performances at Farmington Players Barn Theater from September 28 – October 13.  The show is proudly sponsored by Mall Malisow & Cooney.  Tickets are available online at farmingtonplayers.org or by emailing boxoffice@farmingtonplayers.org or calling the Barn box office at 248-553-2955.