Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Review: Potomac Stages

By Brad Hathaway at Potomac Stages.

Here's the review in full:
This wasn't advertised as a Pre-Off-Broadway engagement, but it turns out to be. Jim Brochu, who wrote and performs this solo show encounter with the inimitable but clearly impersonation-able Zero Mostel, will take the show to the Theatre at St. Clement's on 46th Street in New York with previews beginning November 14 and a formal opening slated for November 23. No need to wait the two and a half months until then, however. The show is up on its feet in fine shape right now (and some 230 miles closer to home for us here in the Potomac Region). It is another of those magical transportations that live theater can impart - the chance to spend an evening in the presence of a person from the past. Brochu brings the man back to life, looking so much like a living, breathing (and bellowing) Al Hirschfeld sketch of the real thing that you suspect the streaks in his comb over spell out "Nina." Those who enjoyed last season's similarly treasurable session, when Theodore Bikel gave us the chance to spend an evening with another icon of the theater's past in his solo show Sholom Aleichem: Laughter Through Tears, will find the pleasure here has an almost "been there, done that" sense of deja-vu until they focus on the differences between the two men who are subjects. (Another similarity? Both shows are headed to New York. Bikel's Aleichem will run from November 8 to December 13 at the Baruch Performing Arts Center at City University of New York.)

Storyline: This solo performance is structured as an interview given by Zero Mostel after the completion of a theater career that was interrupted by the infamous blacklisting of the 1950s. He tells the stories of originating such notable roles as Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof and Max Bialystock in the movie The Producers.

Brochu has had a fascinating career as both a writer and a player. In addition to being a dancing raisin for a breakfast cereal commercial, he penned and directed the musical The Last Session and penned and appeared in his and his partner's autobiographical The Big Voice: God or Merman? for which the received (from the hands of none other than Jerry Herman no less) the Ovation Award for best musical - the Ovations are the Los Angeles equivalent of our Helen Hayes awards. With Zero Hour, Brochu seems to become Mostel, although his eyes are just slightly wrong. It is as if Mostel had brightly chipper eyes of Jay Leno rather than the saddened eyes that, after the blacklisting experience, seemed to radiate intelligence through a curtain of hurt and anger.

That hurt and the resulting anger is at the heart of the story Brochu is telling here. Yes, there are all the funny stories of his successes and failures on the stage and, yes, there are the bursts of comic energy that were Mostel's trademark. But it is the story of his being blacklisted for his failure to tell the House Committee on Un-American Activities the details they demand about a meeting in Hollywood that took place years before he even came to California and his subsequent refusal to "name names" that give the piece substance. This is followed by a retelling of the story of his famous remark regarding Jerome Robbins who did testify. When Robbins was called in as a show doctor on Forum the producers feared that Mostel would refuse to work with him. Mostel's reply was "We of the left do not blacklist." Brochu, however, continues the story to include Mostel's remark to Robbins. We'll leave that particular quote to be revealed on stage.

Throughout the performance, Brochu as Mostel dabbles in watercolor on a pad on his table. By the end, he has created a portrait. Oh, but by that time he has already created a portrait - of Zero Mostel. It is a chance to meet Mr. Mostel that is not to be missed.

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