Neil Simon may be best known for the highly successful and hilarious “Odd Couple” play, television show and movies, but his repertoire of comedies is much more expansive.
“Broadway Bound,” one of two autobiographical plays featured at the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre through this week, is one such example: a radiant comedy tinged with starkly serious family issues.
Eugene Jerome (Jonathan White) is a writer who represents Simon early in his career, working for peanuts in a job he does not care for and living with his modest-means Jewish family in post-war New York. Eugene and his brother Stanley (Mark Ramos) aspire to make it big in Hollywood writing comedy, but have little to brighten their spirits. That is, until Stanley comes home and tells Eugene he got them a job at CBS, which he later concedes is more of an audition.
What ensues is both humorous and heartrending. The kooky socialist grandfather, Ben (Scooter Downey), does not know he is hilarious, as is pointed out by Eugene. But he contrastingly has a very complicated relationship with his daughter, Eugene’s aunt, who lives on Park Avenue with her second husband. Ben is loath to live with his wife, who lives with his now wealthy daughter and later moves to Miami Beach. Downey plays a most convincing and comical old Jewish man.
Eugene’s mother, Kate (Erin Austin), has trouble showing emotion and is plagued by a variety of marital issues with her oft-absent husband, Jack (Jonathan Niotis). Austin gives the shows best performance, flawlessly performing her middle-aged Jewish housewife character. Niotis plays Jack, probably the most serious role in the play, very well and conveys the emotions of this troubled character.
Though some of the characters may have needed galoshes to face the icy Brighton Beach, N.Y. winter of 1949, the audience did not come with theirs. No, there was not simulated rain for the play, but there was broad spitting and sweating abounding from Niotos and Ramos, which was somewhat distracting.
Despite whatever minor issues arose, the players performed masterfully, capturing the witty and moving comedy as though they were professionals. Though a long show, it is a most worthwhile trip to the theater.
“Broadway Bound,” which began last week, is playing on alternating nights with “Brighton Beach Memoirs.” Performance schedules and other information may be found online at www.as.miami.edu/theatrearts/ring.
Greg Linch may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.