note: entire contents copyright 1998 by Beverly Creasey
If you saw the Lyric Stage's extraordinary "Lost in Yonkers" then you know that Neil Simon can be a softie as well as king of the one-liners. The Firehouse Center in Newburyport should be your next destination if you crave more heart-warming Neil Simon. Michael Wainstein has staged a sweet, sentimental "Broadway Bound" as his swan song at the Firehouse --- after five years and twenty shows in Newburyport, he is off to Florida.
"Broadway Bound" is the third in Simon's "Double B" trilogy --- with "Brighton Beach Memoirs and "Biloxi Blues" --- about his and his brother Danny's adventures growing up Jewish in New York during the Second World War.
Here, the two brothers (who in actuality no longer speak to one another) are fledgling comedy writers. They have plenty of ideas; that's not the problem. "The hard part," Eugene says, "is the writing." And everyone's a critic. Grandpa thinks they should turn their attention to things that matter, like "economic slavery". Their mother can't see the humor in a family that's coming apart at the seams. And their father says "There's no future in television."
Simon's gift is in giving each character and each viewpoint its due. He weaves a social consciousness so subtly through the play you hardly notice that he includes some astute observations on post-war America. And he cagily places the voice of conscience into the mouth of the ostensibly doddering grandfather, so that he gets laughs while he scores political points.
The Firehouse production can boast fine ensemble acting and thoughtful touches --- like an elongated dining-room table, in Ted Simpson's homey, authentic '40's set, where the estranged parents sit as far away from each other as possible; or the music ("In The Mood") which ends the first act where, try as they might, the brothers can't get themselves in the writing mood.
Heading up the Jerome Family as the curmudgeonly grandfather is John Tumulty, who gives a powerful performance. His old man is slowing down but not slowing up. Tumulty never strays into caricature, even when the script might lead him there. Anna Smulowitz, too, to her credit never wanders into stock Jewish-mother territory. She gives a performance of enormous depth as a sacrificing woman whose pride and worth stem entirely from her family.
Adam Rosencrance, as the Simon stand-in, gives a riveting performance as a man-child ready to cut his mother's apron strings and make his own way in the world. Their dancing scene, as mother recalls the one moment of glory in her youth, is remarkably moving.
Jape Payette portrays the older brother with a funny, frenetic intensity which meshes perfectly with Rosencrance's solid, down-to-earth Eugene. Maureen Daley (the part is double-cast) underplays the hurt as the prosperous sister who must endure her father's disapproval. Alan Weiner gives a nicely nuanced performance as the father who yearns for more.
Steve Sanderson's lighting is especially lovely when mother looks out of their front door in the early morning. Cynthia Keefe's period costumes are a marvellous reminder of the fabulous fashions of the '40s. As Grandpa says, the point of good writing is to make people aware; not just to make them laugh. Simon accomplishes just that with "Broadway Bound".