BWW Reviews: Jason Alexander Goes From Broadway Star to Star Director in BROADWAY BOUND at the Odyssey
From December 1986 to September 1988, Jason Alexander, the actor best known for his role as George Costanza for nine seasons on the television series Seinfeld, played older brother Stanley in the original Gene Saks production of BROADWAY BOUND on Broadway. It's a play that he loves dearly, calling it Neil Simon's strongest dramedy, and he has directed the marvelous production on an intimate Odyssey stage through September 21, effectively seating the audience in the living room of the Jerome home.
What sparked his involvement was catching a production of BROADWAY BOUND starring a longtime family friend Gina Hecht in late 2013 at the La Mirada Theatre of the Performing Arts. After the successful La Mirada run, Hecht and her fellow actors gambled that they could create it at another theater, and perhaps Alexander would be interested in directing it. Thank goodness their plan has come to fruition with a marvelous cast composed of 3 La Mirada veterans (Gina Hecht, Ian Alda and Allan Miller) and 3 new cast members (Noah James, Betsy Zajko and Michael Mantell), all of whom inhabit their roles to the upmost both physically and emotionally. And of course, each benefitted from the brilliant direction by Jason Alexander.
BROADWAY BOUND is the third play in Simon's semi-autobiographical trilogy, following Brighton Beach Memoirs and Biloxi Blues. A finalist for the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and recipient of multiple Tony and Drama Desk Award nominations, BROADWAY BOUND sparkles with the potent combination of Simon's celebrated comic genius and his deep understanding of family dynamics. As their parents' relationship unravels, two brothers - aspiring comedy writers - convene in the upstairs bedroom of their Brighton Beach home to write and rehearse material. When the brothers use their real-life family situation as inspiration for a radio comedy skit, they quickly learn that complications ensue when art imitates life.
"The way I see things, life is both sad and funny," Neil Simon once said in an interview. "I can't imagine a comical situation that isn't at the same time also painful. I used to ask myself: What is a humorous situation? Now I ask: What is a sad situation and how can I tell it humorously?"
Ian Alda and Noah James star as brothers Eugene and Stanley Jerome who are determined to break into show business as professional comedy writers. Their forbearing mother, Kate, is played with absolute late 40's housewife devotion and hidden emotion by Gina Hecht, and dad Jack Jerome is portrayed by Michael Mantell who effectively handles showing us the nice guy caught between a rock and a hard place in his marriage.
Socialist Grandpa Ben is Allan Miller, whose portrayal allows us to see just where Neil Simon's humor was born. His deadpan delivery of incredibly funny lines will resonate with those familiar with Simon's writing. Newly wealthy Aunt Blanche is Betsy Zajko who saunters in dressed to the Park Avenue nines, thanks to costume designer Kate Bergh. The actors who recorded the radio show during which the Jerome brothers comedy sketch launched their careers are Brian Herskowitz, Ellen Ratner, and Chubby Waters.
Bruce Goodrich's two-floor set from the La Mirada production has been reassembled on the Odyssey stage, minus the outdoor porch. From the living room and dining room on the first floor, up the winding staircase to the second floor bedrooms where the brothers write their comedy sketches and sleep, the home will ring true for any of us raised in a close-knit family, right down to the prized family dining room table around which family members usually celebrate their only time all together.
While some critics have called Simon's plays lighthearted because of the comedy and one-liners, others have observed that his characters are very real and are dealing with serious human dilemmas. BROADWAY BOUND is a darker, deeper play, and it takes a knowledgeable director and talented actors to play it straight in order to bring out the humor. And what makes this production so special is the pure communication between the audience and actors in this intimate theater setting. We are part of this family, listening to their joys, hopes and woes as bystanders in their home.
When Eugene finally gets his mother to show him how she danced with George Raft at the Primrose Ballroom, we are treated to an up close and personal look at a woman transformed into the dreamy and hopeful young girl before the weight of raising a family and dealing with a cheating husband dragged her spirit down. It is a brilliant piece of theater, handled with grace and emotional depth by Hecht and Alda. And it is just one of many splendid moments in this spectacular production.
Performances of Neil Simon's BROADWAY BOUND take place on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., Aug. 2 through Sept. 21, except Sunday, Aug. 3 which will be at 5 p.m. with no 2 p.m. matinee. Additional weeknight performances are scheduled on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on Aug. 20 and Sept.10; and on Thursdays at 8 p.m. on Aug. 14, Sept. 4 and Sept. 18. All tickets are $30. There will be two pay-what-you-can (minimum $10) performances on Thursday, Aug. 14 and Wednesday, Sept.10. The third Friday of every month is wine night at the Odyssey: enjoy complimentary wine and snacks and mingle with the cast after the show. The Odyssey Theatre is located at 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles, 90025. For reservations and information, call (310) 477-2055 or go to www.OdysseyTheatre.com.