By Beki Pineda
BROADWAY BOUND. Written by Neil Simon; directed by Kate Gleason. Produced by Miners Alley Playhouse (1224 Washington Ave., Golden) through Aug. 20, 2017. Tickets available at 303-935-3044 or www.minersalley.com.
Nearly everyone who has ever gone to the theater has seen a Neil Simon play. One of the most prolific writers of the last five decades, he has written 34 plays that have entertained audiences for 56 years. Everyone has seen at least one version of THE ODD COUPLE; now, thanks to Miners Alley, local theatergoers have had the opportunity to see his coming-of-age trilogy. The last of the three plays, BROADWAY BOUND, is currently playing. I’m disappointed that LOST IN YONKERS, generally considered the “fourth” play of the trilogy, is not included in the 2017-18 season, as Miners Alley has a gift for interpreting Simon’s work.
Because Simon writes with such a light comedic hand, his plays have not always been given the serious consideration and critical praise they deserve for plumbing the depths of the human experience. He writes of real people facing real problems and not always finding the happy ending we would wish for. Yet in the Jewish tradition, laughter is the key defense mechanism for making the world less painful. Simon’s characters may be unheroic but are always decent and, in a realistic way, always funny.
BROADWAY BOUND takes us to the time when Eugene (the Simon surrogate) and his older brother, Stanley, have finally landed their first writing gig and must come up with a radio sketch in a weekend for their first comedic boss. At the same time, Eugene has met “the” girl and can’t wait to get away to see her again before she gets interested in someone else. Their parents’ marriage is in crisis and no one knows what to do about it. Blanche, their aunt who has married well, is trying to talk their grandfather into moving to Florida to be with his wife, who has gone there before him. In other words, it’s a house in turmoil.
Eugene is our guide through this headache-inducing plight, breaking the fourth wall to give the audience his point of view on the whole situation. Julian Vendura, a student at UNC, has just the right air of cynicism and self-deprecating humor to carry off the role. Stanley is played by the uber-talented James O’Hagan Murphy as a nervous, on-the-edge would-be writer who can’t understand his brother’s reluctance to stay awake for the whole weekend.
Cindy Laudadio-Hill plays Kate, their mother, whose only purpose in life is to cook food and keep the family going. Her heartbreak at the disintegration of her marriage is quiet, understated and yet palpable. Her sister Blanche is brought to delightful life by Jacqueline Garcia, for whom the term Jewish-American Princess was coined. She and Kate were brought up in the same household by the same parents, and yet the two could not be more opposite. Blanche married well and is enjoying the fruits of that marriage without being obnoxious or unapologetic. She was, after all, forced to live with the family when she and her daughter fell on hard times earlier in the sequence. She sees what’s happening and unselfishly wants to bring some respite to her father and her sister. The resident grandfather of the household is played by Tim Fishbaugh as a stubborn but loving father to his daughters, who is puzzled by his grandsons’ writing ambitions.
The “bad guy” of this situation is Jack, the father, who has found himself caught in the situation of caring deeply for another woman who is ill and needs him more than he perceives his longtime wife does. But, brought up and living in the same familial tradition, he cannot completely break away from his family, either. While it is easy to side with Kate in this situation, Rory Pierce gives Jack such a heart that you forgive him his trespasses. But as Eugene explains, “Everything in life doesn’t come to a clear cut conclusion.” Or a happy one.
While the subject matter is serious, the telling of it is full of droll one-liners, pithy observations and realistic human behavior. The boys’ first sketch turns out to be a thinly disguised scene about their own family. They’re not aware of that themselves, but the family and their neighbors immediately recognize the sketch as reflecting their own lives when they hear it on the radio.
The set is their shabby but well-kept living room and the brother’s two back-to-back bedrooms. As always from the technical team at Miners, all the T’s are crossed and the I’s dotted with everything working smoothly together. Pay attention to Blanche’s gorgeous gold suit with matching hat. To die for!
WOW factor: 9