Clayton Community Theatre ends a five-year artistic journey in triumph with its outstanding production of Broadway Bound.
The company’s original idea was to produce Neil Simon’s Eugene Trilogy in three successive seasons. The plays are a fictionalized account of the playwright’s early life, covering his adolescence in Brighten Beach Memoirs, his basic training during World War II in Biloxi Blues, and his start as a comedy writer in Broadway Bound.
Clayton’s complete cycle was keenly anticipated because the trilogy’s first installment receives many more productions than the other two.
The project suffered a severe blow when its initial director, Joe O’Conner, died unexpectedly when casting for the first production was nearly complete. Sam Hack stepped in as director for O’Connor, whom Hack calls his “very dear and much-missed friend” in a program note.
Brighten Beach Memoirs opened as scheduled in May 2018, followed by Biloxi Blues a year later. The pandemic delayed Broadway Bound twice, but the promise of an integral cycle has finally been realized.
Twenty-three-year-old Eugene Morris Jerome is the narrator and the playwright’s alter ego throughout the trilogy. In Broadway Bound, he lives in his family’s home in Brooklyn with his parents, Jack and Kate; his older brother, Stanley; and his grandfather, Ben.
The plot has two main threads. In one, Eugene and Stanley are pursuing their dream of becoming comedy writers. Stanley has wangled a writing audition with CBS, and the brothers spend the first act struggling to produce a sketch. The second act explores the consequences of basing fictional characters on real ones.
In the other plot thread, Kate faces up to her growing estrangement from Jack.
Charles (CJ) Langdon’s splendid portrayal of Eugene combines the youthful enthusiasm the character showed in Brighten Beach Memoirs, with the maturity he gained in Biloxi Blues. I would not have recognized the character’s development if I had not seen the plays in order. I’m sure director Hack saw what I saw first.
In presenting the breakup of the marriage, the play tells a difficult story insightfully. The excellent performances by Gabi Maul as Kate and Jeff Lovell as Jack make both sides of the story affecting. Maul is uncannily believable as Kate struggles with heartache that grows worse when her suspicions are confirmed. Lovell makes it clear that Jack, too, is in pain and deeply regrets the pain he causes.
Aaron Mermelstein’s richly detailed portrayal of Ben has the full measure of the staunch Trotskyist. Because of his unremitting commitment to socialism, Ben refuses to accept help of any kind from Blanche, his younger daughter, who lives with husband on Park Avenue. Katie Puglisi movingly expresses Blanche’s despondency over her alienation from her father. Drew Rydberg brings out the humor in Stanley’s obsessive worrying and is equally accomplished in the character’s serious scenes.
Andrew and Zac Cary’s impressive scenic design fills the stage with multiple rooms on two levels connected by a staircase. Laurie Blanner’s props add realism to the stage picture. Nathan Schroeder’s lighting helpfully draws attention to right place when the focus changes. Costume designer Julie Smailys decks the characters out appropriately for the period.
Broadway Bound continues at 8 p.m. July 28 through 30 and at 2 p.m. July 31 in the Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road.
Photo by John Lamb
Charles (CJ) Langdon (left) and Aaron Mermelstein in Broadway Bound.