By RJ Johnson
For decades the name of Neil Simon is one of the most respected in theatre and screenwriting. Some may be more familiar with scripts like ‘The Odd Couple’, ‘Sweet Charity’, and ‘Barefoot in The Park’, he created some slightly autobiographical work in the Eugene trilogy, too. Each of these shows stand on their own, and the final story is told in ‘Broadway Bound’, directed by Jess Pervier-Brown which recently opened at Anchorage Community Theatre.
Eugene and his older brother Stan try to break into the world of show business as professional comedy writers while coping with their parents’ break-up and eventual divorce. When the brothers’ material is broadcast on radio for the first time, the family is upset to hear a thinly veiled portrayal of themselves played for laughs.
Every single square inch of the space is used for the design of this play, and in a very intelligent way. Even while creating separate rooms and hallways to give the illusion of an entire apartment, it never feels crowded. Kudos to Carmen Brown and Karlee Dolphin Reaves on their set design. Lighting from Katie Bailey helped connect the audience to the time period and tone of each scene. Attention should also be paid to the costume design from Virginia Taylor which was very appropriate. I also noticed a great use of theatrical makeup illusion on several of the actors, from aging makeup to gender swapping contour, it was very well done.
While this play is from the Eugene trilogy and is autobiographical, it is an ensemble piece. Some of my favorite moments were brought by Ralph Lynch as Ben, the young men’s grandfather. His entire body told the story in each moment, and he is carrying much of the heavy lifting on the comedy side of this piece. Martha Robinson, as his daughter, Kate, is always a joy when she takes to the stage. I really enjoyed her performance in this piece, from the moments when she is just trying to be the best Jewish mother that she can for her two high spirited boys, to her loving exhaustion when handling her just as high-spirited father. Another great moment is in the second act when she is reminiscing about the night that she had a dance with George Raft. Getting that glimpse into the characters’ past, and that magical night made some of the other parts of the show even more heartbreaking.
The brothers, Eugene and Stanley, are portrayed by Cena Moody and MaryAlice Lovel Larmi respectively. I have no issue with gender-blind casting, especially when it is the right choice for the parts. Larmi makes her first entrance with bravado and noise and continues that tone throughout the show. The chemistry with Moody’s Eugene is perfect for this story, and there were many times I felt the fraternal affection that can’t be faked, even during an argument. Moody’s part was delivered with more subtlety and snark. As an actor working in the scenes, but also the narrator for this show, she succeeded in every way. There were many moments where the action on stage would freeze and Moody would need to do a complete shift in order to deliver some lines. The work that was put in was noticed. These moments were again assisted by lighting design from Katie Bailey.
The final members of the cast were Lucy MacCabe Conner as Kate’s sister Blanche. She was a great addition to this ensemble and fit in naturally with all the other talented actors. The boys’ father Jack was brought to life by Stefan Morin. This actor is easy recognizable from any fans of shows produced at Anchorage Community Theatre, and this role once again proves why. Morin has the tough job of playing a character that could be unlikeable. Morin’s skill is taking this part and playing it with the right amount of truth, making Jack a good person who had made some bad decisions. His charm and talent created some sympathy for this complicated human.
Director Jess Pervier-Brown has done something beautiful with this group of talented actors. With over two decades of experience working with several theater companies in town, this is her debut piece at ACT. I hope that it is the beginning of a long-time collaboration. She showed much respect to long time fans of Neil Simon’s work while also putting her voice into this show.
Broadway Bound is an interesting piece, in that the central focus of each scene is about the art of comedy, while dealing with the heartbreak and tragedy of life. It is not as over the top funny as some of Simon’s other works, and not as much about heartbreak as it is heartwarming and honest. Congratulations to the entire team at ACT on the opening show of their 66th season. I, for one, am excited to see what the rest of the year holds in store.