BWW Review: BROADWAY BOUND Rounds Out Neil Simon's Eugene Trilogy at Theatre Palisades
Thanks to sister community theaters Kentwood Players and Theatre Palisades, audiences were treated to all three Neil Simon "Eugene Trilogy" plays in their chronological order this summer. First by Kentwood Players at the Westchester Playhouse was their critically-acclaimed production of BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS followed by a staged reading of BILOXI BLUES. These two plays cover Eugene Morris Jerome's years as a depression-era teenager growing up in his parents' home while dealing with his love of baseball and growing interest in girls, then moving on to his Army induction in 1943 at Fort Dix where he continues to write in his journal, finally meeting the perfect girl and falling in love for the first time.
BROADWAY BOUND won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, making part three the most serious of the Eugene trilogy plays in which we find Eugene and his older brother Stanley trying to break into the world of show business in 1949 as professional comedy writers while coping with their parents break-up and eventual divorce. Along the way, their material is broadcast on the radio for the first time, making the family upset to hear a thinly-veiled portrait of themselves played for laughs. Of course everyone else in their Brighton Beach neighborhood sees themselves in the characters, but that does lessen the hurt felt by their grandfather and parents when the show airs.
Director Sherry Coon has done a fine job of keeping the action going, with many scenes involving perfectly timed slamming of doors as characters move from room to room. But running at almost 3 hours with very little laughter, the play seems a bit long and drawn-out in the Theatre Palisades production, perhaps due to the slow pick-up of line cues by cast members on the night I attended.
That aside, all the actors do a marvelous job of presenting their characters, especially brothers Eugene (DL Corrigan) and Stanley (David Tracq). Corrigan often turns and speaks directly to the audience, sharing Eugene's inner thoughts. This technique is very effective during scenes with his grandfather Ben (Larry Thaler) as Eugene explains what makes his grandfather's humor so effective for the brothers' comedy skits. Thaler is the perfect "straight" man, not realizing how funny his off-the-cuff remarks truly are.
David Tracq portrays Stanley as the more efficient businessman, willing to go out on a limb to go after the broadcasting career he wishes to obtain, getting into NBC Studios and cunningly introducing himself to announcer Abe Burrows as they ride in the office elevator together. That meeting leads to the brothers' first comedy sketch assignment which they must complete within 24 hours. The scene between the brothers as they attempt to complete that task, complete with the ongoing slamming bedroom doors, is a highlight of the play.
Georgan George portrays family matriarch Kate, allowing us to see a woman whose entire life revolves around keeping her husband happy and family well fed. Her pride and joy is her grandmother's dining room table, which George lovingly polishes throughout the production. Kate is a woman with no other apparent interests in life, most likely causing her husband Jack (Kenneth Steven Bernfield) to get involved with a woman who really needs him. While it's not a good reason to stray, his girlfriend's need for his support due to health problems makes him feel needed, something the self-sufficient Kate and soon-to-move-out sons fail to give him in his marriage.
Caroline Westheimer has a lovely scene as Kate's sister Blanche when she visits the family home, dressed to the nines in a mink coat having been driven there in her new chauffeur-driven Cadillac. Blanche has done well for herself, now re-married and residing on Park Avenue. When Ben alerts her of Kate's upcoming split with Jack, Blanche is shocked but does not offer much in the way of help, preferring to let her sister work it out on her own. This seems like a strange turn given how much Blanche relied on Kate and Jack for a place to live during the depression-set BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS, when she and her two daughters moved into their home where all three were housed and well fed for years.
The real star of the production is Sherman Wayne's study two-story set, so solid that actors can slam doors and run up and down the staircase without a wobble to be seen. His effective lighting never fails to draw your attention where it is most needed, setting the appropriate mood for each scene. Also enhancing the production are sound effects by Susan Stangl and lovely period appropriate costumes designed by June Lissandrello.
BROADWAY BOUND continues through October 11, 2015 on Fri/Sat at 8pm, Sun at 2pm at Theatre Palisades' Pierson Playhouse, located at 941 Temescal Canyon Rd. in Pacific Palisades. Tickets are $20 general admission or $18 for seniors and students, and may be ordered by calling the box office at (310) 454-1970 or online at www.theatrepalisades.org
Photos by Joy Daunis
The brothers selebrate their first paid writing job. (DL Corrigan, David Tracq)
Life around the Jerome home.
Blanche pays a vist. (Caroline Westheimer, Georgan George, David Thaler)
Jack confesses to Kate that he has fallen for another woman and wants to leave her. (Kenneth Steven Bernfield, Georgan George)
Kate wonders what her life will be like without her family at home. (Georgan George)
Stanley tunes in to hear their comedy sketch boradcast. (David Tracq)