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Regional Reviews: New Jersey

Zero Hour: Jim Brochu's Acclaimed Portrait of Zero Mostel

Also see Bob's reviews of The Mousetrap and A Chorus Line

Jim Brochu
It would be impossible to over praise or over prize Jim Brochu's magnificent one man play Zero Hour. If I could channel the outsized, overly aggressive, massively talented Zero, I would scream in your ears in mock, yet heartfelt,exasperation: "FOOL, why are you wasting your time reading this JUNK when you could be on your way to seeing Zero Hour. Get out of your chair and GO!! GO NOWWWW!!!."

"Okay, so some of you are still here, and you're going to make me to tell you a little more. ALRIGHT!!"

A towering talent, Zero Mostel was the son of observant Jews, each of whom separately emigrated from eastern Europe to the United States around the turn of the twentieth century. Here they met and married and, in 1915, brought their son Samuel, later to be known as Zero, into the world. Professionally, Zero earned his bread as a stand-up nightclub comedian, with appearances on television, and as a stage and film actor. With the exception of his Max Bialystock in the Mel Brooks movie The Producers, the greatest triumphs of the larger than life Mostel were on stage, where he was acclaimed for his Leopold Bloom in Ulysses in Nighttown adapted from James Joyce's Ulysses; his resistant, but believable metamorphosis in Ionesco's Rhinoceros; his hilarious Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum; and his heart-breaking Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. In a manifestation of the red baiting witch hunts of the 1950s, Mostel was blacklisted, along with other celebrities whose anti-fascist politics had led them to support Communist Party activities during the Second World War. Mostel survived the blacklist and was able to re-attain success; tragically others were not so fortunate.

Unhappily, Mostel disrespected his great performing talent, easily becoming bored, and abasing his talent by adlibbing and hamming it up when performing roles on stage. He loved to paint, and said that he acted in order to fund his endeavors as an artist.

The setting is Mostel's artist studio on West 28th Street in New York City in 1977, the year of his passing. Mostel has agreed to grant an interview to a New York Times reporter whom he will regale for two hours talking about virtually every stage of his life. The audience has the point of view of the reporter.

Both as author and actor, Jim Brochu displays amazing talent in his own right. His play is clear and cogent, truly hilarious, consistently compelling, totally convincing, emotionally powerful, and deeply moving. Whether employing Mostel's own words or his own invented dialogue, Brochu's script is a unified whole, and wholly Mostel. From the description of Mostel's first marriage to the reaction of his parents to his marriage to the Irish Catholic Kathryn Harkin to the horrifying accident that almost cost him a leg to the emotional toll taken on him by the convergence of the opening of Fiddler on the Roof and the death of his estranged mother, Zero Hour is chock-a-block with fascinating stories.

In appearance, gesture and vocalization, Brochu's "imitation" of Mostel is close to letter perfect. His voice is a bit deeper, a bit less mellifluous. Even more impressive is Brochu's ability to channel the soul and emotional depth of Mostel. When his Mostel bares his soul while recalling HUAC and blacklisting in all its horrendous evil, the impassioned Brochu becomes Mostel, and we are chilled to feel that Zero Mostel is with us again.

Praise is due to director Piper Laurie who has directed this high impact production without leaving any fingerprints. James Morgan's set provides an effective frame for Brochu's performance.

The above description only begins to describe the myriad events and fascinating people vividly captured by Jim Brochu in Zero Hour. It is a heady mixture of solid laughter and devastating emotion that you will long remember.

Zero Hour continues performances (Evenings: Wednesday through Saturday 8 pm/ Matinees: Sunday 2 pm) through October 21, 2012, at the American Theatre Group at Hamilton Stage, 360 Hamilton Street, Rahway, New Jersey 07065; Box Office: 732-499-8226; on-line

Zero Hour by Jim Brochu; directed by Piper Laurie

Zero Mostel…………Jim Brochu

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- Bob Rendell

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