LATHAM — There’s a scene in Act I of Neil Simon’s “Broadway Bound,” now in a first-rate production at Curtain Call, when aspiring comedy writers Eugene Jerome (Anthony Halloway) and older brother Stanley (Sam Reilly) try to figure out what every good sketch needs.
Conflict, one says. Yes, and that’s because what one person wants might not be what another person wants. Bingo!
Of course, Simon knew that conflict is also the source of drama, and there’s plenty of that in this final installment of the “Eugene” trilogy. Put a bunch of people at different times of life in the same Brooklyn household — 49-year-old Kate (Pamela O’Connor); her 55-year-old husband, Jack (Steve Leifer); Kate’s 77-year-old father, Ben (Gary Maggio); and the two 20-something sons — and there are bound to be competing goals.
For example, old-time Trotskyite and kvetch Ben longs for a socialist revolution, putting him at odds with one of his other daughters, Blanche (Devra Cohen), who’s married to a rich man. Jack longs for — what? An escape from a 30-year job as a fabric cutter? Maybe more? Kate worries about —and tries to manage — everyone, including her mother, who lives with Blanche. And Stanley and Eugene, both employed at workaday jobs, struggle to become creative artists in the infant TV industry, eager to get up and out of a home in which they often hear their parents arguing.
Based on Simon’s life, “Broadway Bound” is a memory play; thus, Eugene speaks directly to the audience, massaging our understanding of certain moments and tying up loose ends. Rodrigo Hernandez Mtz’s two-level scenic design beautifully reinforces the concept of a memory play, with see-through walls that suggest Eugene’s imperfect recollection of this insubstantial home.
Lily Fossner’s lighting scheme subtly shifts our attention from one portion of the house to the next; Beth Ruman’s post-World War II costumes fit the bill; and the work of Alex Dietz-Kest (sound), Rebecca Gardner (stage management), and Lynne Skaskiw (props) is up to CC’s high tech standards.
A word about the direction of Cindy Bates: laser-sharp. The pace is brisk, particularly in the humorous interplay between Stanley and Eugene. And in two heart-breaking scenes — the Act I appearance of Blanche and the confrontation between Kate and Jack — we know that Bates’s rehearsal feedback has been absolutely critical. These performers have the chops, of course, but the pathos develops when another pair of eyes confirms what’s working and what isn’t. I was often on the edge of my seat.
Cohen’s Blanche movingly walks the fine line between grown woman and underappreciated daughter. Leifer captures Jack’s mid-life crisis with the right balance: we understand him, but can we forgive him?
Excellent as always, Maggio makes Ben a curmudgeonly savant. “Realists” know he speaks the truth but don’t have time for it.
Reilly’s Stanley is like a windmill, spinning his way through the world, hoping to produce something with all of his energy: a delightful performance. In O’Connor’s hands, Kate is a rich, three-dimensional character, no more so than when she recounts her teenage encounter with George Raft. Here, O’Connor lifts the veil over Kate’s heart.
And Halloway is our sweet guide to it all. Eugene’s innocence is intact in Holloway’s every buoyant line reading and look, but a little drollery begins to emerge as the veil over his eyes disappears.
Curtain Call starts its 27th season in fine fashion.
WHERE: Curtain Call Theatre, 1 Jeanne Jugan Lane, Latham
WHEN: Tthrough Sept. 28
HOW MUCH: $25
MORE INFO: 518.877.7529, or [email protected]