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STAGE REVIEW : Director Keeps Things Simple in ‘Brighton Beach’ : With all sorts of family crises, everything still seems to revolve around Eugene in Neil Simon’s comedy at Cal State Fullerton.

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Director Joseph Arnold keeps everything simple and crisply paced in Cal State Fullerton’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” the first leg in Neil Simon’s autobiographical trilogy about growing up imaginative and Jewish.

As with the other two comedies (“Biloxi Blues” and “Broadway Bound”), “Brighton Beach Memoirs” represents Simon’s most substantial work. The play may betray his usual devotion to the easy gag and obvious situation, but it also shows a more mature and varied style.

The focus is on Eugene (Christopher DuVal), the precociously annoying but somehow endearing adolescent centerpiece of the Jerome clan. This Simon surrogate does what most any boy does: He daydreams about being a star on his favorite team, the Yankees, and tries to avoid as much responsibility as possible. Manhood isn’t far away, so there’s also sex. He thinks about that a lot.

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When not dwelling on Eugene, Simon introduces us to the other family members and their problems. Dad (Jim Skousen) loses his moonlighting job selling party noisemakers and worries about how to make ends meet, especially if his Polish relatives flee a Nazi-dominated Europe and show up at his door.

Eugene’s brother Stanley (Spencer Strauss) worries about how he can continue to work for an unprincipled boss. Cousin Nora (Lisa R. Wilson) worries about a career as a chorus girl. Aunt Blanche (Gail Liston) worries about getting a man. Eugene’s mom (Betsy Baldwin) also worries that Blanche will never get one.

Even with all these crises, everything still seems to revolve around Eugene, a fact not lost on director Arnold, or DuVal. He plays him with equal shades of likability and insufferability, making the most of his omniscient role as narrator and commentator.

It’s Eugene’s little asides (sometimes milked too much by the generally amusing DuVal) that provide the insight.

The rest of the actors also offer good collegiate portrayals. By refraining from turning the father into an overwrought mess of Jewish cliches, Skousen’s solid characterization tends to stand out.

‘BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS’

A Cal State Fullerton production of Neil Simon’s comedy. Directed by Joseph Arnold. With Betsy Baldwin, Christopher DuVal, Gail Liston, Jim Skousen, Spencer Strauss, Laura Walsh and Lisa R. Wilson. Set by Robert Gore. Costumes and makeup by Abel Zeballos. Lighting by Jennifer Sechrest. Sound by Bill Magdziarz. Plays Tuesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. with a Saturday matinee at 2:30 p.m. and a Sunday performance at 5 p.m. at the campus’s Recital Hall, 800 N. State College Blvd., Fullerton. Tickets $5 to $7. (714) 773-3371.

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