2022-23 season

2022-23 season

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.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Jared Lane Strolls Down Memory Lane as Stanley in Brighton Beach Memoirs

Jared Lane as Stanley Jerome ...
... during early rehearsals for Brighton Beach Memoirs

Neil Simon’s family drama Brighton Beach Memoirs is set in Brooklyn in 1937.  While that is over 80 years ago, in many respects, the family dynamic hasn’t changed all that much, and the experiences we all share as families are fairly universal.  In the Farmington Players’ production (opening September 28), Jared Lane plays Stanley, the oldest son in the Jerome family.  As Jared says, “Family dramas like these are timeless. Even if some of the specifics seem dated, everyone goes through puberty, everyone has a falling out, everyone makes mistakes. This show really brings to light the saying ‘when it rains, it pours,’ which I think any family can attest to at some point in their lives.”

Jared describes Stanley as “an eighteen year old man whose main drive is to emulate the hardworking, strong principled nature of his father, Jack.  Jack is counting on Stanley to help out financially, and Stanley is desperate to prove he is up to the task. However, Stanley's principles and attempts to make extra money only end up backfiring, leaving him conflicted and embarrassed.” Jared says he can definitely “relate to Stanley in how I tried to cover up my mistakes. At seventeen and eighteen, I was no stranger to making mistakes. The thought of owning up to these mistakes and confessing them to my parents was almost always out of the question. Even minor mistakes, a bad test grade for example, was cause for me to pack my bags and move away. Like Stanley though, I eventually learned that the consequences are far less severe when you're honest and upfront.”

In Brighton Beach Memoirs, the family starts as a collective unit.  But, as Jared observes, “over the course of the play, we watch these characters grow apart from each other, as they look inwardly into who they are and what they want to be. In the end, however, these personal journeys only solidify the closeness of the family. That's what this show's about: Growing as individuals, to grow closer as a whole.”  Jared’s favorite moments playing Stanley are “my scenes with my younger brother, Eugene. I've never had a younger brother, but I imagine I'd act a lot like Stanley if I did. Despite Stanley's mistakes, he's good natured and caring.”

Jared grew up in Midland, but has been living in Auburn Hills while he pursues his undergraduate studies at Oakland University. He’s majoring in creative writing with a double minor in history and communication and is the president of the University's competitive Speech Team. Jared’s hobbies include writing, reading, going on walks, and raising his two cats, Caesar and Augustus. He says, “this is my first show with the Farmington Players, but I can already tell that it's a special community theater and have enjoyed getting to know the cast and crew of this wonderful production.”

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.