Through Sun 10/3
A native New Yorker, Neil Simon is recognized as Broadway’s King of Comedy. Following his very successful 1961 production of Come Blow Your Horn, Simon’s name on a script basically meant instant box office sell-outs during the era from 1960-1980, the Great White Way’s era of comic plays.
Simon wrote more than 30 plays and the same number of movie screen plays. He has received more combined Oscar and Tony Award nominations than any other writer. He was so respected that in 1983 he became the only living playwright to have a New York theatre named in his honor.
His litany of plays includes such titles as Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, Lost in Yonkers and The Goodbye Girl, as well as the book for such musicals as Little Me, Sweet Charity, They’re Playing Our Song and Promises, Promises. He wrote a trio of semi-autobiographical plays, dubbed the Eugene Trilogy in which the central character of each story is “Eugene,” none other than Neil Simon himself.
One of those plays, Broadway Bound, is one of his most serious dramatic comedies; it’s now in production at Beck Center for the Arts. It opened on Broadway on December 4, 1986, and closed on September 25, 1988 after 756 performances. A New York reviewer said of the script, “Broadway Bound contains some of its author’s most accomplished writing to date — passages that dramatize the timeless, unresolvable bloodlettings of familial existence as well as the humorous conflicts one expects.”
The story centers on the Jerome family of Brighton Beach, a Brooklyn, New York neighborhood, and sons Eugene and Stanley’s entrance into the professional world of comedy writing. As is true of many of Simon’s works, the stories tend to be character- rather than plot-centered.
Eugene Morris Jerome (Zach Palumbo) is the play’s narrator and central character. He is a witty 23-year-old who works in the stock room of a music company. Eugene cares deeply about everyone in his family, especially for his parents, but that does not stop him from making fun of them in his first big comedy sketch.
Stanley Jerome (Daniel Telford) is Eugene’s neurotic and OCD 28-year older brother. The duo constantly bickers, especially when they are writing their comedy sketches. Ben Epstein (Tony and Obie award winner Austin Pendelton) is Stanley and Eugene’s grandfather. A devoted socialist, he lives with his daughter and her family though still married. He is one of Stan and Eugene’s humor heroes and the subject of much of their comic writing.
Kate Jerome (Susan Stein) values family, and familial experiences and items, especially the inherited dining room table. She is loyal to her husband in spite of his infidelity. Jack Jerome (Alan Safier) has had an off-again, on-again affair. He becomes outraged when the radio program his sons wrote turns out to sound eerily similar to their own family situation and, in a huff, leaves Kate.
Blanche Morton (Anne McEvoy), Kate’s well-to-do sister, lives on Park Avenue and is determined to make her father move to Florida to live with his semi-estranged wife, whom he avoids speaking with. He, on the other hand, can only focus on Blanche’s giving in to capitalist society.
Beck’s cast, under the astute direction of Willian Roudebush, is near perfection. Though one might like to have the born-and-bred Brooklynites have “New Yawk” accents, the characterizations are so clearly etched and true to Simon’s writing, that their midwestern pronunciations can almost be overlooked. (Something that can’t be overlooked is the program’s lack of identification of the date and place of action, as this is so very vital to the tone and understanding of the script.)
This is one of Simon’s most dramatic scripts, along with being very funny, and the cast so hits the right tone of seriousness that the farcical door slamming, comedy timing and dramatic realism all make for a special evening of theater.
Chei DeVol’s set is outstanding. The wall colors and designs, furniture and knickknacks are all era-correct, as are Betty Pitcher’s costumes. The only technical flaw is the theater’s ever-present sound problem. Some laugh lines were lost due to the lack of vocal clarity. It can only be hoped that someday the Beck board of directors will see fit to replace the disastrous system.
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Humorous with a serious underbelly, Beck’s Broadway Bound is a perfect way to reenter the world of live theater. The script is well written, the cast is outstanding, and, except for the problems with the sound system, this is a special evening of theater.
BROADWAY BOUND runs through October 3 in the newly renamed Senney Theater at the Beck Center for the Arts in Lakewood Lakewood. For tickets go to beckcenter.org or call 216-521-2540 X10.
[Written by Roy Berko]