Sydney review: Broadway Bound: a wonderful story
Above: Les Asmussen and Patrick Holman. Below left Brett Heath and Simon Lee and below right: Suzann James
By Neil Simon
Directed By Rosane Mcnamara
A New Theatre Production
542 King Street
Season: 13 November – 15 December. Bookings: www.newtheatre.org.au
Put two highly ambitious 20-something sketch writers together with a loving, house proud mother; a hard-working but unfaithful husband and father; a slightly cantankerous, socialist grandfather and you have the beginnings of some very interesting family dynamics. Then place them in a New York Jewish neighbourhood and you have Broadway Bound.
This is the third instalment of a trilogy of stories loosely based on writer Neil Simon’s own life (it follows Brighton Beach Memoirs and Biloxi Blues).
Broadway Bound is a wonderful story set in the late 1940’s and brilliantly captures the post-war themes of austerity, struggle, ambition, and the promise of limitless opportunity that the United States offered its citizens. Neil Simon’s story is lively throughout and knits drama and comedy seamlessly.
The story is set in the home of Jack and Kate Jerome. They have two sons Stanley and Eugene. Kate’s father, Ben Epstein, also resides with them. Kate has been preparing dinner and trying to stop her father going out in the freezing cold. Kate’s youngest son Eugene arrives and begins to boast about a girl he has fallen for. After a while Kate’s oldest son Stanley comes home and dominates the scene with ‘great news’ about a chance meeting he had with the producer of a show on CBS radio. His excitement is contagious as he convinces his brother to immediately work with him during the night to write comedy sketch material for the radio show.
All the while, Kate is the caring mother and homemaker, determined to keep the family well-fed and comfortable. Ben potters in the background and amuses his grandsons by his socialist mutterings and forgettable joke telling.
Later that night, Jack comes home seemingly exhausted from a long working day. However, Kate finds the courage to confront him with her suspicions of him having an affair. A simple denial from Jack is soon disproved and their marriage is relegated to the rocky road of eventual breakup.
Time passes and as the boys gain success in their career, they witness the demise of their parent’s marriage and a changed relationship with their father. Eugene also finds a new understanding of Kate as she reveals how she once danced with George Raft to help win the heart of Jack. In contrast to her boys burning ambition for writing success, Kate demonstrates contentment in simple things such as maintaining a family heir-loom, the dinner table.
Neil Simon is remarkable in the way he can humanise all these characters and make them fallible. Yet they all have likable and redeeming traits.
Suzann James plays Kate Jerome. She has tapped into Kate’s mindset as the stable force in a rapidly changing family. Her sons are finding success, her marriage is crumbling, and she reminisces about happier times with Jack. When husband Jack defends his affair by saying that he never left her, Kate replies “You did leave. You didn’t move out, but you left”.
Les Asmussen as Ben Epstein gives a terrific performance as Kate’s father. Les has perfected the New York Jewish accent and his character unknowingly acts as a model for comedy scripts written by his grandsons. His body language, timing, and gestures were perfect.
Eugene Jerome is played by Patrick Holman. Eugene finds material from the people he encounters and is a romantic at heart. He is able to help his mother ‘open up’ about her past and cope with present day troubles. Patrick is ideal in this role.
Simon Lee brilliantly plays Stanley Jerome. This character is a whirlwind of creativity and ambition. His presence dominates in any scene and can inspire others to act on achieving their goals. He proudly boasts “I have an eye for talent, and I have talent”.
Jack Jerome, the husband and the father, is acted by Brett Heath. He plays a broken man torn by leading a double life. Not wanting to hurt Kate, he lies but finally faces the truth and leaves her. His relationship with his sons changes as he feels they have embarrassed the family by sending them up as fictionalised characters in their radio show script.
Susan Jordan plays Blanche, Kates sister. She is made to feel guilty for marrying a rich man and having an easy lifestyle.
Director Rosane McNamara deserves full credit for this production. She has utilised the talents of cast and crew to their maximum. The costumes are era-authentic and the set seems homely and intimate as a New York apartment would feel (snow falling outside the front door was a simple but powerful effect).
As a play, the dialogue is sharp and witty and the subject matter topical and relevant. I’m sure you will enjoy!