The third installment of Neil Simon’s trilogy about the Jerome family from Brighton Beach, Broadway Bound stands on its own as a humorous and wistful examination of working-class Jewish-American culture during changing times.
Toward the end of the pre-television era in 1949, brothers Eugene (Ian Alda) and Stanley (Noah James) work furiously on creating a radio sketch for their shot at stardom. Their brusque, overworked mother, Kate (Gina Hecht), worries about her grown boys still living at home. She also cares for her aging father, Ben (Allan Miller), who lives with them, and is suspicious of her conspicuously absent husband, Jack (Michael Mantell). Rounding out the family is Kate’s sister, Blanche (Betsy Zajko), whose Park Avenue lifestyle rubs both Kate and dyed-in-the-wool socialist Ben the wrong way.
Helmed by Jason Alexander (a member of the original Broadway cast), the show powerfully delivers equal parts comedy and drama as family members constantly get under one another’s skin. Eugene and Stanley’s creative differences lead to over-the-top shouting matches, which bring to mind spats between George Costanza and Kramer from Alexander’s time on Seinfeld. Ben’s curmudgeonly socialist rants are as wryly funny as they are pointed. And, of course, the tension between mothers and sons is a perennial gold mine.
Bruce Goodrich’s beautiful sepia-and-beige-toned set is a picture postcard, which transports us to another time, along with Kate Bergh’s authentic costumes and Katherine S. Hunt’s detailed props.
Alda embodies an earnest likability, which contrasts nicely with both James’ frenetic excitability and Miller’s dry wit. But it's Hecht’s wonderfully nuanced transformation from an underappreciated mother who snaps at everyone to a starry-eyed schoolgirl reminiscing about her dance with George Raft that is in itself worth the price of admission.
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Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A.; through Sept. 21. (310) 477-2055. OdysseyTheatre.com.
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