By Rita Charleston
It’s often been called one of his funniest. And now “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” playwright Neil Simon’s “valentine” to his family, is being performed at Act II Playhouse, 56 E. Butler Ave. in Ambler, through June 25.
Set in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn in September of 1937 during the Great Depression, this coming-of-age comedy focuses on Eugene Morris Jerome, a Polish-Jewish American teenager. He experiences puberty, sexual awakening and a search for identity while dealing with his family, which includes his parents, Kate and Jack, his older brother Stanley, Kate’s sister Blanche and her two daughters.
In his autobiography, Simon wrote that Eugene was “no doubt my alter ego.” In the play, 19-year-old DJ Gleason plays the 14-year-old Eugene, the show’s narrator, a youthful teen who confesses his goals of becoming a writer, playing professional baseball and seeing a naked girl. “Eugene is written in somewhat of an exaggerated way, yet he’s also very relatable to lots of people,” says Gleason. “Even now, I totally see myself in him. Even my dad sees part of himself in Eugene.
“There’s so much wonder in Eugene. There’s so much he doesn’t understand yet. And he dreams a lot, like playing with a loaf of bread while pretending it’s a football, and he’s the lead quarterback. Or pretending to play baseball in the World Series. When I was a teen, I also played baseball and acted out the same kinds of scenarios.”
Now making his debut at Act II Playhouse, Gleason fell in love with theater while attending Penncrest High School in Media. “My first role was in ‘Harvey,’ a play about a man who sees an imaginary rabbit. And from the moment I appeared in the show, I absolutely fell in love with acting,” says Gleason, who just completed his freshman year as a theatre major at Delaware County Community College.
“I read the script first before I auditioned and watched the movie. Then again, after I got the role , to better familiarize myself with it. It’s a great part, and I love doing it. For me, the best part is the energy and response of the audience. That’s always been my favorite part of working. And this role is so interactive. I get to look right at the audience when I’m doing my monologue and see their eyes light up. I think that’s one of the greatest things that can happen to an actor.”
Although relatively new to the world of theater, Gleason has appeared in several local productions, including “Enter Laughing” at Players Club of Swarthmore, “An Ideal Husband” at the Wilmington Drama League and others. Additionally, he has performed at the Philly Improv Theatre and performs regularly with his own improv troupe, The Noble Try. Formed with several of his friends, the troupe will be making an appearance on June 30 at the Media Community Center.
“For the future,” Gleason confesses, “I hope I’m still able to act and find fulfilling roles that will keep me going. Honestly, acting gives me the kind of fulfillment I can’t get from anything else.”
For times and ticket information, call 215-654-0200.