Max Samuels’ grandfather grew up in Brooklyn. The Staples senior heard his stories of that place and time. Until a couple of weeks ago, though, he’d never really heard them.
But Max is president of Staples Players, so to prepare for their upcoming Black Box production — “Brighton Beach Memoirs” — he invited his grandfather to talk to the cast.
It was a perfect match. Lou Berlin — now 83 — spent an afternoon describing his youth. The teenage actors of 2011 now understood much more vividly what it meant to come of age in the 1930s.
Lou talked about his life: playing stickball and Johnny on the pony in the streets. Going home from school for lunch. Watching movies — a newsreel, cartoon and feature — all for a nickel.
When he was finished, the Staples students asked questions. What was his relationship with his parents and sister? How did he have fun? Where did he meet his wife?
The answers helped each actor understand his or her character better. Including the one who plays the “Brighton Beach” father: Max Samuels.
“My grandfather’s father — my great-grandfather — worked a lot,” Max says. “He had a few jobs, including taxi driver. Jack does that job too.
“I knew my character worked very hard. But I didn’t realize that meant he was never home — and when he was, he was exhausted.”
“Brighton Beach Memoirs” has many references to money. Max’s grandfather explained the importance of every penny during the Depression. Now, Max says, the cast truly understands what their lines mean.
Max’s grandfather had as much fun that afternoon as the young actors. This week, they put the final touches on the show. It opens Friday night (March 4, 7:30 p.m.).
“It’ll be great,” Max promises. “It’s a very funny show, but at the same time very serious. On the one hand you’ve got Eugene (Ryan Shea) going through puberty, sharing his memories with the audience. On the other hand it’s the Great Depression. The family has to take Jack’s wife’s sister and her 2 daughters in — and feed them. It was very, very hard.”
The set is “very cool,” Max says. “It’s actually a house — you can see the upstairs and downstairs.” The Black Box Theater at Staples is “very intimate,” he adds — “just like Brighton Beach in 1937.”
And just like the bond between Max Samuels and his grandfather — plus, now, the full “Brighton Beach Memoirs” cast.
(In keeping with the “family” theme, Max’s sister Rachel is double-cast as Nora — Jack’s niece. “Brighton Beach Memoirs” will be performed March 4, 5, 10, 11 and 12 at 7:30 p.m., with a matinee on Sunday, March 6 at 2 p.m. Click here for tickets and more information.)