BWW Reviews: Fine BROADWAY BOUND Closes Sunday at La Mirada
For diehard theatre aficionados Neil Simon's greatest plays are his autobiographical BB trio Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues and Broadway Bound. The first depicts his boyhood growing up in a poor Jewish family on the outskirts of New York City during the Depression, followed by his army experiences, and finally a farewell to Brighton Beach as his career as a comedy writer in radio and television was about to take off. Now onstage at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts through Sunday October 13 only, Broadway Bound is a welcome glimpse of nostalgia circa 1949 performed by a dynamite cast under the steady direction of Jeff Maynard.
Simon's early work Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, The Sunshine Boys and Come Blow Your Horn, endearing and funny that they are, do not have a meaty view of family and its problems. Emphasis is on laughs, whereas in the BB trilogy, Simon's off-center, dysfunctional family is exposed, giving light to the spirited but painful atmosphere of parental uneasiness/eventual divorce and divergent political views. In Broadway Bound the Jeromes, Eugene (Ian Alda) and his older brother Stanley (Brett Ryback) represent Neil Simon and his older sibling Danny. Their parents are Kate (Gina Hecht) and Jack (John Mariano) and also living in the house is grandpa Ben (Allan Miller). Ben is a socialist, thus causing a rift with his second daughter Blanche (Cate Cohen) who lives on Park Avenue with a nouveau rich husband. Another unsettling problem concerns Jack who lies to Kate about an extramarital affair, raising a barrier between them and casting a fog over the entire family.
The through line revolves around Eugene and Stan who are presented a golden opportunity to write a comedy sketch for a CBS radio variety hour. As they wrack their brains struggling to find something genuinely funny to put on paper, these family conflicts play out around them... conflicts that eventually supply the material they need and from which they at last draw genuine humor. A coup for them via Simon who learns that the best writing comes from personal experience! It's all here: Blanche seeks love and approval from Ben, Ben tries difficultly to find some inner peace, Jack wants out of his marriage, and the boys, of course, want out of their menial jobs and to find money and success in show business. Only Kate, the rock of the family, keeps a stoic brave face, concealing her dreams, except for a delightful memory from her youth about meeting handsome movie star leading man George Raft at the Primrose Ballroom and dancing with him. This is a highlight of Act II where Kate lets her hair down and teaches Eugene a thing or two about taking risks and tripping the light fantastic.
Maynard has directed with a lighter touch than seen in past productions of the play, letting the drama flow naturally and lending an overall sense of optimism. The entire cast are delectable. Alda and Ryback savor their roles as the brothers, as does Hecht with Kate. Her second act scene with Alda is deliciously unforgettable, full of promise and hope. Miller is remarkable as Ben fearlessly spouting out political opinions and just giving off the vibe of wanting to be left alone. Mariano plays out his unhappy, bewildered state to the letter. It is only Cohen who seems a tad miscast as Blanche. With model-like beauty, she appears almost too perfect and too young, but does her best with the emotional side of the role. Bruce Goodrich's two story set is ideal and Ann Closs-Farley's costuming, just right.
Go and catch this beautifully nostalgic play, one of Neil Simon's very best, through this Sunday only!