Los Angeles Theater Review: BROADWAY BOUND (Odyssey Theatre)

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by Jason Rohrer on August 3, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles


I like plays featuring middle-aged guys who did everything right and still can’t figure anything out.  So Ron Sossi and Larry Field’s new production of Neil Simon’s 1986 Broadway Bound has a present for me in the character of Jack, the no-nonsense garment cutter whose wife and kids don’t get his existential longing, especially as it materializes in his philandering.  As tastefully and honestly Ian Alda and Gina Hecht star in BROADWAY BOUND at the Odyssey Theatre - photo by Ron Sossi.performed by Michael Mantell and Gina Hecht, Jack and Kate Jerome share an heirloom sideboard full of unfulfilled aches as they slide into the mature years.  Well-explicated if unresolved and dramatically inchoate, their story as directed by Jason Alexander is a quiet soap of the slice-of-life school.  Abetting this is a tangent about grandpa Ben (a note-perfect Allan Miller) and his not-quite-convincing excuse for abandoning his own wife, who lives with Aunt Blanche (lovely, passionate Betsy Zajko) on Park Avenue, which might as well be on the moon to Ben’s old Brighton Beach Trotskyite.  It’s good, true work by actors you trust implicitly every minute, even if what they’re saying sometimes doesn’t completely make sense, or matter very much.

But their stories take place downstairs (on Bruce Goodrich’s solid, beautiful set).  Upstairs, and all over the house, the A story includes a cavalcade of misplaced, therefore extraneous, Borscht Belt silliness, as sons Stanley (Noah James) and narrator Eugene (Ian Alda) pinball their way toward careers in television writing.  Eugene and Stanley’s stuff is underwritten in the story department and overwhelmed by the gags and one-liners Simon seems compelled to pack in between Ian Alda and Noah James in BROADWAY BOUND at the Odyssey Theatre - photo credit Enci.the boys’ dramaturgically unimportant steps.  Love interests are described; why?  Obstacles to love and work are mentioned, but they are ignored, abandoned, or so easily overcome that they may as well not have been mentioned.  (We have to get this sketch written by tomorrow! Or a few days from now. We have to get our parents to like the broadcast! Or we don’t, really, we’re thrilled anyway.)  Alda is a well-timed and sympathetic protagonist, even if his character does very very little to further the action (it would be stretching a term to say that this play has a plot); James fairly smokes from the gears grinding between his excitable character’s ears, and in his shoulders, hips, and knees.  (His director played Stanley on Broadway, which may explain some of his performance, which does look to have received special attention.) These are well-cultivated performances that ideally would be surrounded by an entire production pitched in their heightened reality.  Alexander has not pitched the show thus, nor has Simon written it so.  And so the play limps up and down little hills between the gravity downstairs and the schtick bouncing off the ceiling.

Again, the work onstage is uniformly excellent.  Leigh Allen’s lighting is exemplary in its invisibility, and Martin Carillo’s sound (including a radio show delivered apparently through one speaker) is properly evocative, as are Kate Bergh’s convincing period costumes.  A production this professional-looking speaks well of the 99-seat plan’s intentions.  I just wish this play were written as consistently, as of-Michael Mantell, Noah James, Betsy Zajko, Ian Alda, Allan Miller, and Gina Hecht in BROADWAY BOUND at the Odyssey Theatre - photo by Enci.a-piece beautifully, as Simon’s best work.  The Odd Couple happily mixes pathos and sight-gags and observational one-liners, and Simon’s screenplay for Elaine May’s outrageously effective The Heartbreak Kid is about as convincing an argument for television writers’ rooms-as-creative-incubators as one could ask.  (Simon, of course, is a product of the ridiculously fertile Sid Caesar staffs that produced Larry Gelbart, Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Lucille Kallen…)  Broadway Bound has always felt to me like a play about parents that got jammed into a complete-the-Brighton Beach-trilogy-by-1986 framework.  As such, it feels more like a sitcom than most of his plays; and if you’re okay with that, you certainly won’t hate this.

Gina Hecht, Allan Miller and Betsy Zajko in BROADWAY BOUND at the Odyssey Theatre - photo by Enci..

photos by Enci and Ron Sossi

Ian Alda and Gina Hecht in BROADWAY BOUND at the Odyssey Theatre - photo by Enci..

Broadway Bound
Odyssey Theatre Ensemble
Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.
scheduled to end on September 21, 2014
EXTENDED to September 28, 2014
for tickets, call (310) 477-2055
or visit www.OdysseyTheatre.com

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