Director Shirley Serotsky’s touching Broadway Bound at 1st Stage is a captivating mix of coping humor and tragic poignancy, borne aloft by Teresa Castracane’s soaring performance as Kate Jerome, a stoic, mid-20th century working-class mother and wife.
The last of playwright Neil Simon’s quasi-autobiographical coming-of-age trilogy is less dependent on his famous wisecracks and breezy sentimentality and more grounded with relatable characters—flawed, decent and drawn with an honest compassion.
The sly focus on Kate and her world around the dining room table (the play begins and ends with Kate setting and unsetting the table) treads into Arthur Miller territory, a firm departure from Simon’s first two installments (Brighton Beach Memoirs and Biloxi Blues) centered on his younger alter ego, the indomitably droll Eugene Morris Jerome, here played with a likable brio by Noah Schaefer.
As you would expect, Broadway Bound effectively chronicles Eugene’s (Simon’s) first fumbling steps into show business, but you may be surprised to know that the play is much more memorable as a loving tribute to Kate, his mother, a drive given body through Castracane’s resplendent performance.
Her portrayal is pitch perfect in dialogue, expression and action from the moment she appears on stage fretting over collecting the family she serves for dinner, the culmination of which is the peak of her workday. Later she emerges from the bright ensemble as she exposes the fear of losing her place in the only structure she knows in a piteously moving confrontation with her unfaithful husband.
And by the time, near the close of the play, when Kate is spurred to relive her magical night at the Primrose Ballroom as a wide-eyed teenager all those years ago, Castracane—without fanfare—matches the beautifully written scene with a wholly affecting grace and steals the show.
The play is set in the Jerome household in 1949 Brooklyn, and depicts the bittersweet changing of eras for the kid from Brighton Beach. Eugene, now in his early 20s, and his irascible older brother, Stanley (Scott Ward Abernethy), are on the cusp of a first big break writing for a radio comedy program. At the same time, Kate and her increasingly distant husband of 33 years Jack (Andy Brownstein), are on the verge of a break themselves.
The brilliant Stan Shulman rounds out the cast as the lovably goofy old Trotskyite Ben, a hard, inscrutable father to Kate and a ready foil for Eugene. Shulman’s comic timing dishing out Ben’s irrepressible wisdom garner the biggest laughs in the play.
Serotsky moves the talented cast around with ease, the pacing is mostly fine (a bit of running time could be cut), and the direction is unpretentious. Brittany Shemuga’s lighting and Robert Croghan’s period costumes are also excellent.
The play’s simultaneously running tracks—the younger generation’s preoccupation with moving on and the parents’ complex fear of the world moving on without them—are effectively realized as a handsome two-level set of the interior of the Jerome home, designed by Jonathan Dahm Robertson.
closes December 18, 2016
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Eugene and Stanley comically bounce off each other in the upstairs bedrooms, another Simon Odd Couple bulling their way through the mechanics of comedy sketch writing. Abernethy channels Jason Alexander, who originated the role of Stanley on Broadway in 1986, complete with manic pique and childish antics, while Schaefer imbues Eugene with the warmth and nebbishy angst expected of the character.
The downstairs living and dining rooms are where the family’s slow dissolution unreels. This is where Kate holds dominion, passing to and from the kitchen; where the family sits around the radio and dials into Jack Benny and Arthur Godfrey for laughs and connection; where betrayal is conceded and received; and where eventually, many spinning lives are winnowed down to one.
Broadway Bound by Neil Simon. Directed by Shirley Serotsky. Featuring Scott Ward Abernethy, Kathleen Akerley, Andy Brownstein, Teresa Castracane, Noah Schaefer and Stan Shulman. Set design by Jonathan Dahm Robertson. Lighting design by Brittany Shemuga. Costume design by Robert Croghan. Sound design by Jeffrey Dorfman. Props design by Deb Crerie and Kay Rzasa. Stage Manager: Kathryn Dooley. Produced by 1st Stage. Reviewed by Roy Maurer.