Neil Simon reminisces about his last days of being a live-at-home son and the earliest days of his writing career in Broadway Bound, the third play in Simon’s “Eugene Trilogy” and one of the master scribe’s bona fide masterworks, now getting a Broadway-caliber revival by McCoy-Rigby Entertainment at the La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts.
Twenty-three-year-old Eugene (Ian Alda) is no longer the callow teenager of Brighton Beach Memoirs when we are reunited with the fledgling scribe and his older brother Stanley (Brett Ryback) as the duo scramble to complete an audition script for CBS radio, one they hope will jumpstart their careers as comedy writers.
The Jerome boys’ Brooklyn home still looks pretty much the same as it did in BBM, with Eugene and Stanley occupying side-by-side upstairs bedrooms and the boys’ working-class parents Jack and Kate (John Mariano and Gina Hecht) still as amusingly sense-of-humorless downstairs, though this time round their socialist grandfather Ben (Allan Miller) gets added to the family mix, the septuagenarian having recently moved in with daughter and son-in-law rather than accompany his wife to warmer Florida climes.
Broadway Bound introduces us to an older, wiser Eugene, a young man beginning to see his family through adult eyes, in particular his parents’ increasingly rocky relationship, even as he and Stanley continue to squabble like teenagers while struggling through the night to complete their first radio script by its rapidly approaching deadline.
Unlike the earlier, fluffier Neil Simon stuff of the 1960s (Come Blow Your Horn, Barefoot In The Park, The Odd Couple), by Broadway Bound’s 1986 Broadway debut the master playwright had already begun to explore life’s darker sides, though no previous Simon play had blended comedy and drama as seamlessly, nor done so in a way that made the transition from one genre to the other as believable, as Broadway Bound.
It helps, of course, to have a cast as adept at the light stuff as the play’s darker matter, as is the case in this 27th Anniversary revival. It helps too, and immensely so, that director Jeff Maynard knows Neil Simon like the back of his hand, having originated the role of teenage Jay in the First National Tour/Los Angeles Premiere of Simon’s chef-d’oeuvre Lost In Yonkers, starred in Part 2 of the Eugene Trilogy Biloxi Blues, and more recently won a Best Director Scenie for helming McCoy Rigby’s revival of Lost In Yonkers.
Heading an all-around impeccable cast, recent Scenie winner Alda would seem to have been born to play Eugene, a role he invests with a combination of boyish enthusiasm, abundant warmth, and a combination of Eugene-esque wisdom and wisecracks, whether interacting with family or (in Eugene Trilogy tradition) breaking the fourth wall to offer wry observations to the assembled audience.
Ryback, who’s won a pair of Best Actor Scenies, is pretty darned terrific too as Eugene’s older though not necessarily wiser brother Stanley, and though Alda and Ryback don’t exactly look like brothers, in all other ways they could have been born at the hip, so authentic is their sibling camaraderie.
Hecht and Mariano are quite simply superb as Kate and Jack, vanishing into their characters’ darker, drabber skins, proving perfect “straight men” for Eugene’s punch lines, and making us so believe in these unwittingly funny characters that when their marriage’s unraveling begins to reveal itself in Broadway Bound’s “Eugene (O’Neill)” moments, the mood shift seems as organic as when the laughs once again resume.
Equally masterful is Miller’s grandpa Ben, a dedicated socialist whose last laugh, we are told, predated the 1929 stock market crash, and whose seeming inability to “get” any of Eugene’s surefire jokes never fails to get a laugh.
Completing the cast as Kate’s younger, fur-coat sporting, Cadillac-driving sister Blanche is the marvelous Cate Cohen, whose Act One visit from one of New York City’s posher neighborhoods throws the Brighton Beach Jeromes lives into sharper relief and helps us imagine the world outside Brooklyn that Eugene and Stanley are hoping to conquer.
As always, La Mirada and McCoy Rigby have brought together a topnotch design team, giving Broadway Bound a Broadway-ready look, from scenic designer Bruce Goodrich’s richly detailed Brighton Beach home (kudos shared with properties designer Terry Hanrahan) to Ann Closs-Farley’s splendid era-specific costumes to Daniel Ionazzi’s impeccable lighting design. Katie McCoy’s wig/hair designs are winners for everyone but Blanche, who would have chopped off her own locks rather than set foot outdoors in 1949 New York in a such a humungous WWII do. Josh Bessom’s sound design is a mixed bag, providing necessary amplification for those seated further back, but drowning out the actors’ real voices for those with seats closer to the stage. (To be fair, the sound mix did improve as the play progressed.) In addition, Cate Caplin has choreographed a lovely dance sequence to highlight one of Eugene and his mom’s best scenes together.
Contributing behind the scenes are production stage manager Vernon Willett, assistant stage manager Allie Roy, general manager Buck Mason, technical director David Cruise, and casting director Julia Flores.
La Mirada/McCoy Rigby follows Pulitzer Prize finalist Broadway Bound with next month’s David Lindsay-Abaire Pulitzer Prize winner Rabbit Hole and in January comes Yasmina Reza’s Best Play Tony winner God Of Carnage, a trio of hit Broadway plays anchored by this tiptop revival of one of Neil Simon’s very best.
La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Boulevard, La Mirada.
September 21, 2013
Photos: Michael Lamont