Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Houston Press Raves Over Zero Hour.

Zero Hour If you've never had the absolute pleasure of experiencing the one-and-only Zero Mostel -- and that's the only way to describe his free-wheeling performances, an experience -- then Jim Brochu's one-man show on Mostel's life and times, running concurrently at Stages Repertory Theatre with another one-man show, I Am My Own Wife, is probably the nearest and best you'll ever get.

Three-time Tony winner, Mostel is one of Broadway's monstres sacrés: an original, something titanic, a force of nature. As a performer, he was his own shock and awe, and his story is one of steely determination, fierce pride and unquenchable anger at what happened to him and his many friends during the '50s Communist witch-hunts. When his performing career was curtailed, he survived through his first great love -- painting -- his lifeline to creativity. Mostel was one of the lucky ones; he outlived his adversaries and returned in triumph to Broadway (Eugene Ionesco's Rhinoceros, Sondheim's Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Harnick and Bock's Fiddler on the Roof) and then Hollywood (Mel Brooks's The Producers).

An incredibly versatile actor, he made you weep with his brilliant insight into James Joyce (Ulysses in Nighttown), or roar with laughter from his antics with The Muppets. All the highlights and lowlights of Mostel's complicated, seismograph-like life are covered by Brochu, who bellows, cajoles, pleads and charms much like Zero.

There's a snippet from Mostel's comic days at Café Society; an improv from his first drama class; his "Hello, loose lips" speech in front of the full Forum cast, coldly welcoming HUAC rat Jerome Robbins as the show's new director; and endearing personal family confessions. Comedy, pathos, Borscht belt schtick, bombast and sentiment, and Mostel's instantaneous shift from one to another, it's all here and rendered with loving photorealism. The physical resemblance is downright eerie: a slicked-down comb-front that Mostel should have trademarked, those haunting saucer eyes, that surprising agility like one of the hippos from Fantasia and that melodious thunder of a voice.

(Here is Zero on the Muppets, referred to above:)

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