Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol
Also see Fred's review of West Side Story
Brochu, a sophomore in high school in 1962, met and came to know Mostel, and wrote the current play a few years ago. The Off-Broadway production, which began in November, 2009, garnered a Drama Desk Award for Best Solo Performance.
Mostel evidently saw himself as a painter first, then an actor. Thus, the setting is a painter's loft on West 28th Street in New York. A reporter from The New York Times, never seen, knocks on the door and soon begins to interview the performer. Mostel's early years in Brooklyn, then Connecticut, and back to New York are chronicled. He then speaks of his early acting experiences.
The show catapults forward when Brochu addresses Mostel's blacklisting. The hulking, blazing Mostel appeared, in 1955, before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Jerome Robbins was an individual Mostel blamed for naming names. Mostel informs all of the mild reprimand Lucille Ball received as opposed to the anger directed at Jews who were questioned. Mostel's dear friend, Philip Loeb, ultimately committed suicide in response, one surmises, in reaction to the Joseph McCarthy/Army hearings.
The play references Mostel's best known roles in favorites such as A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Fiddler on the Roof. The Zero Hour script is laced with comedic one liners such as "Where there's smoke, there's salmon." Or, the opening words of the second act: "I had a dream last night. I dreamed I was a baked potato ..." Earlier, there is allusion to Café Society and its owner Barney Josephson; that is where Zero met his wife Kate. Brochu does an excellent job of flavoring the playbringing the observer, through anecdote, to time and place.
What is truly remarkable, moreover, is the actor's ability to get inside of a man he so admired and find him: on the Lower East Side, at Grossinger's in the Borscht Beltand either sitting or standing in his top floor studio. Brochu, every so often, paints as he converses with or, more precisely, rails at the Times journalist.
The show is not designed to please the faint-hearted or one who shies away from hot temperament. Brochu's Mostel raves, throbs, and gesturesall with maximum force. While members of the audience laugh upon occasion, this is anything but the portrait of a comic actor. Instead, we find a furious thinker, an individual unafraid even if he is perpetually aggravated. This is a man who wears his beliefs prominently and is up for challenge if not confrontation. He is bothered by injustice and suitably contentious.
The interview occurs the day before Mostel was to appear in the first performance of The Merchant in 1977. He would suffer a fatal heart attack, at the age of 62, after the first out-of-town performance of that show.
Mostel was a larger than life, passionate, aggressive human and Jim Brochu now animates the stage with his presence night after night. The play begins with the exclamatory "Go away!" as Mostel barks, from within, to the reporter. And then, a few moments later after some further text, "Close the door behind you; you're letting the flies out!" Zero, within Brochu's talented hands, plays to and for his audience.
Zero Hour continues at Barrington Stage Company's Stage 2 in Pittsfield, Massachusetts through June 5th. For tickets, call (413) 236-8888 or visit barringtonstageco.org.
- Fred Sokol