No family is perfect. We all have our problems, and that is why it is easy to relate to Broadway Bound, which depicts the problems of family life so comically.
Now playing at the Walnut Street Theater, Broadway Bound, is a well-acted comedy that takes a look at serious subject matter. This is the last play in Neil Simon’s autobiographical trilogy about his alter ego, Eugene Morris Jerome. Eugene and his hilarious yet dysfunctional family live in Brighton Beach, New York after World War II.
The play concerns the three generations living in the Jerome household. Ben, Eugene’s grandfather, is a stubborn socialist clinging to a dying cause and ignoring the rift between him and his wife, who resides elsewhere. Kate and Jack, Eugene’s parents, are dealing with the disappointment of middle age and missed opportunities. Jack has had an affair, Kate knows, and their marriage is crumbling.
In contrast to their parents, Stan and Eugene are young men just embarking on the journey of their lives. Eugene is experiencing first love. Both have the opportunity to leave their dead-end jobs and follow their dreams of becoming a sibling comedy-writing duo. As their lives are just beginning, the lives of their parents and grandparents are starting to unravel.
Despite the serious nature of the issues the play deals with, Broadway Bound is quite funny. Both Eugene’s comments to his family members and his asides to the audience are hilarious. He even writes a radio bit about his cheating father, saying that he works in “ladies’ pajamas.” Jesse Bernstein, who plays Eugene, captures the clever attitude of the young man who has been writing his memoirs since he was 14. His interaction with Stan, played by Scott Greer, is very believable and keeps the play moving at a quick pace.
Lee Golden plays a likeable Ben, and manages to keep you wondering if he is confused in his old age or if he really understands more than anyone else. Ellen Tobie is a drawn, reserved Kate who conveys a great deal through seemingly ordinary conversation. Each character is complex and believable.
The play takes place in the era of radio-just before the dawn of television-and provides an interesting look into variety shows that were popular at the time. Eugene and Stan get their first big break writing for such a show on CBS, and there is an interesting scene in the second act where the whole family gathers around the radio to hear the bit they have written.
Perhaps the strongest scene also takes place in the second act, where Eugene convinces his mother to tell him of her girlhood days when she was a sought-after dance partner. Eugene is even able to get her to dance with him. Kate tells a beautiful story, but it’s tinged with sadness because she should really be telling her husband. Eugene, although he does his best, is really just a stand-in.
Not to be overlooked in this play is the set. The designers seem to have sliced a real house in half to give the audience the impression that they are looking into the living room, dining room and upstairs hall of the Jeromes’. The second floor rooms actually extend over the dining room. The set-the same one that was used two years ago at the Walnut Street Theater for Brighton Beach Memoirs-is definitely worth seeing.
Broadway Bound is an interesting slice of the Jeromes’ life, filled with the same conflicts that many families deal with. The actors are skilled and successfully convey the multifaceted natures of their characters. Even though Jerome’s problems are very serious, Eugene manages to cope by laughing at himself and his family, creating a very intelligent comedy. Broadway Bound is playing through March 6 at the Walnut Street Theater. Students can purchase tickets at the WST box office the day of the performance for $7.50. For more information go to www.wstonline.org.
Emilie Haertsch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org