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Third Simon a charm


Geva has treated Neil Simon awfully well in its now-complete trilogy of Simon's autobiographical "BB-plays," Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues, and Broadway Bound. The last is the best, because the script and characters, as well as the actors, director and designers, have all matured and grown in the process.

Biloxi took Eugene Morris Jerome to World War II. Now, in Broadway Bound, he returns to his parents' home in Brighton Beach, New York, and actually in some ways reverts to the innocence of his pre-army self. But he is a wiser and even more dryly funny observer, and the family situation is now darker and more complex: trouble is brewing with Eugene's parents and grandparents, and he and his brother Stan are getting ready to leave the nest.

Theater artists seldom get such a rich opportunity to develop roles and interactions. Geva's cast fortunately returns intact to re-create their earlier roles in the first play, and the setting is basically the same with only subtle changes that show that we have moved from 1937 to 1949. Of course, Dennis Staroselsky didn't really seem to be only 15 in Brighton Beach Memoirs, and none of the characters seem to have aged quite 12 years. But, given how fine in the first case were both Simon's work and Geva's treatment, it is hard to say who has developed the most in this golden finale.

Director Tim Ocel doesn't lose an iota of the play's warm comedy, but his approach to this decidedly darker play is more realistically rueful than earlier versions I remember. We lose no affection for these continuing characters, and, despite their arguments and breakups, they retain much love for each other. But there are only two left in the family home at the play's end.

Grandpa Ben (new in the house in this play) will not give up his politics, habits, and New York ties to move with his (unseen) ailing wife to Florida. Jack, the father, takes up with another woman and eventually leaves his family and home. Brothers Stan and Eugene are about to move to Manhattan, where they have found work as comedy writers.

Aunt Blanche, no longer a needy boarder, has married an exceptionally wealthy man and is now an elegant visitor, but still in need of loving acceptance. Mother Kate is facing the loss not only of her husband, but even more seriously, of anyone to clean, cook, and care for --- the actions by which she defines her very existence.

That all this remains funny and heartwarming is a measure of Simon's deepening talent in this play; and Geva's production is more than worthy of it. All the designers and supporting artists work at top level. A fine veteran of other Geva productions, David Silberman joins the cast to create a Ben who seems to have been an essential family member all along. Barbara Sims is awfully glamorous as the newly rich Aunt Blanche but touching in Blanche's appeals to her father.

Bryant Richards' Stan is amusingly fussy and domineering as Eugene's guide to professional writing, but makes a shattering, potent moment of finally criticizing his father's infidelity without any hint of overemphasis. Mitchell Greenberg seems so entirely invested in the character of Jack that he commands our belief and even affection while honestly portraying that unhappy man's weaknesses and insensitivities. And Lori Wilner as the ultimate Jewish mother, Kate, creates a kaleidoscopic picture of a very real, complex woman whom any audience will find both aggravating and lovable. Her scene re-creating Kate's youthful moment dancing with movie star George Raft is a treasure.

Finally, Dennis Staroselsky has become as good in the role as anyone who has played Eugene. He handles the extra tour de force assignment of playing most of Act Two with a stopped up nose by adopting a "code id da heb" accent that is comic but still allows for honest emotion.

Even if you missed the first two plays, Broadway Bound is a must-see theatrical experience. I expect the run to be extended but still hard to get tickets to.

Broadway Boundby Neil Simon, directed by Tim Ocel, plays Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 4 and 8:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 and 7:30 p.m., through October 3 at Geva Theatre Center, 75 Woodbury Boulevard. $12.50 to $48.50. 232-4382,