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Coming-of-age tale has a timeless appeal

Drayton set to stage Neil Simon’s classic take on adolescensce and family, Brighton Beach Memoirs

Girls, baseball, friends, siblings and overworked parents.

Exploring a hilarious coming-of-age story, Drayton Entertainment is now showing Brighton Beach Memoirs.

The play, written by award winning playwright Neil Simon, takes the audience along for the ride while 14-year-old Eugene Morris Jerome grows up in 1930s New York City. Eugene, played by Canadian stage, television and film actor Thomas Duplessie, narrates the story, while interacting with the other characters in the show.

The story takes place in 1937, during the Great Depression, and follows Eugene while he tries to navigate puberty, friends and family, with a few laughs along the way. Drayton Theatre put on the play in its inaugural season in 1991, and the story has been seen on both stage and screen, to glowing reviews, since its Broadway debut in 1983.

Duplessie says the story of Eugene and his family is full of universal truths that transcend the decades, applying as much to audiences in the 2010s as it did more than 30 years ago.

“It really comes down to family and the people that you love and the people that love you – at the end of the day, that is the most important thing,” he said of the show. “After we did the first read through, I felt such an obligation to call my family and talk to them. It is just a reminder of what you should really keep close in life and I hope it reminds people of what blessings they have.”

The show covers the struggles the Jerome family has to go through with the difficult economic times, and adding more mouths to feed in the household during those difficult times. Eugene tries to find himself among the chaos.

The setting was a far cry from what Duplessie was used to, or even remembered from his own youth. At 26 years old, it has been a while since he lived in the mind of a soon-to-be 15-year-old boy.

“He is a very interesting character. One of the things going in to the character that I was really kind of focusing on was the energy of being a 14-year-old. I am 12 years older than that, so thinking back to days like that, about how a 14-year-old walks around, how he speaks,” he said, adding that there were some aspects that put his acting skills to the test when taking on the role of Eugene. “Also, the accent was a little bit of a challenge – that Brooklyn, Jewish influenced accent. That was a fun challenge to work on. Also, I have never played a narrator of a show before, so going from having a scene partner, or scene partners, to the next second, breaking the fourth wall and speaking to the audience directly, then going back into the scene – it is two different kinds of styles.”

It is Duplessie’s first season with Drayton Entertainment, after spending the last few years on the big and small screens, acting in shows like Reign and Heroes Reborn. Theatre will always be his first love, however.

“I love them both (theatre and screen work), but for every different reasons. I started out in theatre and that is where my heart is. It is what I am always going to be coming back to,” he said. “The beauty of theatre is that you can’t take another take if it goes wrong. Everybody is so dependent on each other. That is the whole thing about going to a theatre. It is about seeing the actors do their work in front of you. And that challenge and that expectation of doing this on stage is something that I will always come back to.”

Brighton Beach Memoirs runs from June 15 to June 30 at the Drayton Festival Theatre. Tickets, with prices starting at $26, are available online at www.draytonfestivaltheatre.com, in person at the theatre box office, or by calling (519) 638-5555 or  toll free 1-855-DRAYTON (372-9866).

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