How does a writer of comedies write a comedy about the failure of his parents’ marriage? (Request: Please let me know if you find another review of this play that does not begin, ”Broadway Bound is the third play in playwright Neil Simon’s semi-autobiographical Eugene Trilogy, made up also of Brighton Beach Memoirs, about his adolescence, and Biloxi Blues, about his Army basic training during World War II.)
Answer: he doesn’t. He splits the play in two.
The marital troubles occupy much of the first act, with a particularly bitter confrontation between Eugene’s father and his mother, who has discovered the father’s infidelity. The issue recurs in a different context, briefly, in act 2.
The rest of the play recounts the growing pains of a pair of young writers, Eugene and his older brother Stanley, with ample comedy. Stanley especially seizes on any chance meeting with famous comedians in an elevator or a restroom, and since he works in Radio City, such meetings do happen. And they do lead to a suggestion that they submit something to a new radio show that features young writers, radio still being viable in 1949, though television was on its way. This opportunity drives Stanley wild with his immediate need to get something written before a deadline, and he doubles the pressure on Eugene, who is almost equally interested in seeing this girl he has met.
They do get something written, accepted, and broadcast. Which means that Saturday evening at 6 o’clock will be devoted exclusively to listening to the program, as Stanley whips everyone into their place. Much family rejoicing from those who hear it. Except from the father. The boys have done what writers should do, write about something they know. What they know is their family. Father says it was obviously the family’s troubles that they were writing about and that everyone in the neighborhood, who had been dragooned by Stanley to listen, would know who it was about. He attacks the sons bitterly.
While such repercussions don’t appear, the young writer Eugene has learned a lesson about the difference between life and art and about how you walk that sometimes fine line.
Eugene and Stanley are played by Jacob Flekier and Spencer Kruse, who also played them in The New Jewish Theatre’s 2019 production of Brighton Beach Memoirs. Flekier again fills the audience in directly on some points in the story. Kruse radiates nonstop energy. They play well together, and they play well with grandfather Ben, their mother’s father who lives with them. Ben, still a committed socialist, has the soul – or at least the timing – of a Borscht Belt comedian, as does Bob Harvey, who plays him. The grandsons learn from the best, who may or may not be aware that he’s teaching them.
Chuck Brinkley also played the father, Jack, in the 2019 production. That was a different Jack, still the loving paterfamilias. Now Brinkley captures the weight of the guilt that burdens him and separates him from the family.
Jenni Ryan was not in the previous production, but she is exactly right as the mother Kate. Her subtle shifts as she deals with her father and her sons and her husband and her sister never stop, with an especially touching scene when she dances with Eugene..
Christina Rios plays sister Blanche (she also was not in the Brighton Beach Memoirs).
Blanche has had the misfortune to marry a rich man, which means that she is therefore stained with capitalism, and her relationship with her father is strained. She comes for a visit and to try once again to persuade Ben to join his wife in Florida. They are not exactly estranged, but something like that. This visit is, again, unsuccessful. Rios in a short time reveals much about this rather complex character.
Alan Knoll directed, so all is as it should be. Margery and Peter Spack again designed the two-story house in Brighton Beach, which worked just as well again, as did Michael Sullivan’s lighting design as realized by Kimberly Klearman Petersen, Michele Friedman Siler’s costume designs, and Kareem Deanes sound design. Emily Ann Fluchel is the stage manager.
Neil Simon perhaps reaches his peak with the Eugene Trilogy, and this third of it is getting a peak production at The New Jewish Theatre.
Photo by Jon Gitchoff
From the left, Ben (Bob Harvey), Stan (Spencer Kruse), Kate (Jenni Ryan), and Eugene (Jacob Flekier) listen to a radio sketch written by Stan and Eugene in Broadway Bound.