“Broadway Bound” Looks at Laughs and Love at Curtain Call Theatre
Curtain Call Theatre is providing some great laughs in “Broadway Bound,” the third of Neil Simon’s alliteratively titled autobiographical shows. The comedy has serious themes of a writer’s responsibility to his subjects, the purpose and usefulness of comedy and most touchingly, the passage of time and dissolution and revamping of the family as we grow and age. The laughs and pain don’t always coexist comfortably in the play and this production but there is plenty of entertainment about relationships and reasons for living to consider on the car ride home.
A great benefit in following Curtain Call’s long history of producing Neil Simon is being able to see two actors, the terrific Steve Leifer and Pamela O’Connor, in another Simon show together. This is their second in the Brighton Beach trilogy. The pair were also in his Pulitzer Prize winner “Lost in Yonkers” a few seasons back. Their comfort and ease with each other and your history as an audience member with them makes their squaring off against each other that much more painful and rich.
In “Broadway Bound” they are Jack and Kate Jerome who are the parents of the author’s stand-in Eugene (Anthony Holloway) and his brother Stanley (Sam Reilly). They are at war with each other over Jack’s philandering. They share their Brighton Beach home with her socialist father Ben Epstein (Gary Maggio) is also visited by her sister Blanche (Devra Cohen) who has married up and has moved out to Park Avenue. When the play starts there is much talk about transitions-the sons striving for success with a career in show business, the grandmother’s imminent move to Florida and Jack’s absence from the family tradition of dinner together.
The young men consider themselves comedy writers and as the play begins Stanley bursts into the house to announce that he has secured them an audition at CBS. It is great to see Sam Reilly stretch himself in this big, bouncing braying performance after having seen his many shows in Ghent. It was a welcome change of pace and I greatly enjoyed his bargaining with God, scenes on the philosophy of comedy with the delightfully deadpan Holloway and his confrontation with his father.
Holloway as the author’s voice is also the play’s narrator and conscience, he is great company with his many asides to the audience done with grace and charm. He can just shift his gaze out and you feel comforted that he’s telling this story. He shines with such Simon self-deprecations as “Jewish guys are never good at sports that are played between November and April.”
Devra Cohen as Blanche arrives trying to convince the hilariously cantankerous Ben in Maggio’s portrayal to move to Florida with his wife from whom he has separated. She gives as good as she gets in some of Simon’s sharpest writing accusing her father of relying on his obsession with Trotsky and ¾ of the world that live in economic slavery to avoid his personal responsibilities. Her parting shot of hard-fought wisdom when she states that she has gone years “…accepting whatever affection you can give me. But you’re not going to stop me and Momma from giving you ours. We’re women, we don’t know any better.” lands with a pain not common in family comedies.
Steve Leifer as Jack is pulled apart by the years passing him by and the thought that he has missed out on a world of erudition and experience that his affair represents. He does nice work making his confrontations with the entire family pitiable and thoroughly understandable.
Pam O’Connor knows her way around a dining room table and her command of the house, the dinner hour and food is exceptional and reveals her character in her actions. Her memory of dancing as a teenager with George Raft as urged on by her son who takes Raft’s place in this reverie gives the play a throbbing heart as you feel Simon the writer craving to comfort his mother. Holloway and O’Connor can prick your eyes with tears in their tentative foxtrot.
Best of all is Gary Maggio who threads the needle of comedy, pathos and sharp insight to great effect consistently all evening long. From his opening furtive entrance with a brown bag full of shameful cargo to his agitated physical presence, all knee bouncing and shifting weight, to his combative stance for social justice, to his steady assessment of Jack, Maggio delights with his cantankerous spleen throughout. His opinions on comedy, relationships, and Florida are very funny. “You can change your bathing suits in Florida. Not the world.” He is so indelible, he gets laughs from offstage.
Neil Simon was the best friend an actor and producing theater could ever want in that he wrote hundreds of great roles in dozens of plays that are consistently and successfully produced decade after decade. We are nearly 60 years from his Broadway debut with “Come Blow Your Horn” and he can still surprise, always with a funny line but in this play with a generous, compassionate, imaginative awareness as well. These are six great roles that are well cast and the actors are only going to get stronger and have more fun with them as the Curtain Call run goes on. Kudos to director Cindy Bates for her work sharpening the family dynamics.
The set (Scenic Design by Rodrigo Hernandez Mtz) is an unfinished, exposed frame of a house with the boy’s bedrooms on a platform upstage. Longtime Curtain Call Lighting Designer Lily Fossner is on board for this show and she does a fantastic job defining space and directing our attention to the scenes throughout the raw space. This is the second show I’ve seen with Beth Ruman’s costume design (after “The Heiress”) and she does superlative work in another era with great fit and lovely period sweater vests, suits, and dresses. Sound design by Alex Dietz-Kest has created a fun radio show which is Eugene and Stanley’s big break containing the voices of Curtain Call stars.