Twenty-eight years ago, Brea Bee met Adam F. Goldberg in an East Falls theater’s production of Brighton Beach Memoirs.
On Wednesday, the Northeast Philadelphia native will be on ABC playing her own mother, Vickie Bee, as The Goldbergs, now in its eighth season, continues to mine its creator’s past for characters, using people’s real names.
In January, another actress, Sadie Stanley, began playing the teenage character Brea Bee in a recurring role as the latest love interest for the young Adam (Sean Giambrone).
Onscreen, the two got together after being paired as chemistry lab partners. The real story is better.
In 1992, the real Brea Bee, who’s probably best known for playing the ex-wife of Bradley Cooper’s character in 2012′s Silver Linings Playbook, was a 17-year-old student at Little Flower Catholic High School for Girls. Goldberg was a 16-year-old William Penn Charter student from Jenkintown. Both had been performing in local productions for years, Bee having made her debut at 10 — on roller skates — in a Huntingdon Valley Dinner Theatre production of The Rink.
In a 2011 interview, Goldberg, who won the Philadelphia Young Playwrights competition as a high school student, said it was that Old Academy Players production of Neil Simon’s play that really pushed him toward writing as a career. “I read that Neil Simon script so many times that I kind of learned what it meant to write a play.”
What he didn’t say was that writing also got him the girl.
Goldberg played the lead, Eugene, in Brighton Beach Memoirs, and “I played his cousin, Nora, who his character is madly in love with,” Bee said in a phone interview last week. Hanging out during rehearsals, “we got to become really, really close.”
In the play, Eugene writes in his journal, she said, and “when we would be rehearsing and [Goldberg] would be writing in his journal, he would be writing me letters.”
He would give them to her at the end of each rehearsal, Bee said, and she would take them home, write back, and bring them to the next rehearsal. “This went on for a few weeks until eventually, Adam wrote in the letter, ‘Would you ever think of going out?’”
She would, and they did. “It was the sweetest, most romantic thing that had ever happened to me,” Bee said.
It’s not a story that could easily have been told on the show, which leans more into Goldberg’s love of pop culture than his background in theater.
“It would be kind of difficult [for the show] if I were in a different school,” Bee said. But in the January episode that introduced Brea Bee as the most popular girl at William Penn Academy, a copy of Brighton Beach Memoirs falls out of Adam’s book bag as they’re talking. It was “a little nod to our origin story,” Bee said.
Though the romance ended long ago, the two stayed in loose touch over the years, and when Bee decided to move to Los Angeles in 2011, she reached out to Goldberg for advice. “He’s always been one of the ... genuinely nicest, most generous people I’ve known in my life,” she said. A month after she moved, “he had me on his show [a Fox comedy called Breaking In that starred Christian Slater] ... I didn’t even have an agent" yet.
Bee, whose credits since include recurring roles in Hulu’s Light as a Feather and General Hospital, has appeared on The Goldbergs once before, as a different character. She said she’s still most likely to be recognized as Nikki, the former wife Bradley Cooper’s character is trying to win back in The Silver Linings Playbook. The movie was filmed in and around Philadelphia, reportedly because Cooper, who grew up in Jenkintown and Rydal, wanted it that way.
“I loved the fact that I was able to shoot and work on it in my hometown,” she said.
And now, she’s playing her own mother, whose nickname, Vickie, has been shortened to Vicki by the show. “This is the most surreal thing," said Bee, whose mother still lives in Northeast Philadelphia. So do her father, Jeffery and her brother, Eric.
In Wednesday’s episode, Beverly Goldberg (Wendi McLendon-Covey) finds out that Vicki is divorced, and “there is an issue around that,” Bee said. She described the plot line as only “loosely based” on reality, although “my parents are divorced.”
Her mother did know the real Beverly Goldberg, she said. “My mom would drive me to Adam’s house and you know, it was just the kind of your normal teenage experience. Never in our wildest dreams did we ever think that so many years later, we would actually be seeing it and I would be portraying it on a national television show. So both of us are just kind of thrilled.”
The Goldbergs. 8 p.m. Wednesday, ABC.