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Broadway Bound                  Geva Theatre Center, 2004

Mark Liu - Democrat and Chronicle

Our boy is all grown up.  For Geva Theatre Center audiences, it has been a treat to experience Neil Simon’s autobiographical trilogy over three seasons, watching Eugene Jerome change from a wisecracking kid in Brighton Beach to a wisecracking draftee in Biloxi to a wise cracking young man trying to write comedy in Manhattan. Broadway Bound opened Geva’s season this weekend with the same actors from Brighton Beach Memoirs, and the only real complaint is that the project is over.

How will we manage without the beaming presence of Dennis Staroselsky, who played all three iterations of Eugene with vibrancy and killer comic timing? How do we live without the comfort of Simon’s lithe comedy on the calendar?  Will we ever laugh again?  Fortunately, this production generates plenty of laughter to fill the tank.  And as Neil Simon goes, these are deeper laughs, cutting close to the heart.

Broadway Bound begins and ends with Kate, suffering semi-quietly as her husband slips away from her, her sons prepare to leave the nest and her sister (Barbara Sims) tries to get their father (David Silberman in a solid performance) to flee south to Florida.

Lori Wilner is brilliant here, channeling Kate’s sense of abandonment into a constant flurry of housework.  She suggests great tension with a clenched expression and heavy eyes.  Takeaway the plates and tablecloth, and you feel she’d start pounding the walls.

Director Tim Ocel creates a wonderful study of contrasts. The manic desire of Eugene and his brother, Stanley (Bryant Richards), to break into television is layered against the waning desire of their parents’ marriage.  The brothers, silly with writer’s block, carry on as if participating in the Neurotic Olympics.  Meanwhile their mother and father, Ben (Mitchell Greenberg), carry out a slow, worn-out dance of heartbreak.

Only one moment falls flat, when Ben makes a confession to Kate in a casual delivery that leaves out any guilt-ridden pauses or a sense that Ben is wary of Kate's reaction.  But soon after, the actors hit a powerful stride, arguing in relatively calm voices.  They argue but they don’t explode, which is more painful to watch.

In a heart-melting scene, Eugene and his mother re-enact her finest hour, when she once danced with the great George Raft.  Her misery is momentarily bandaged by the embrace of her son, and the actors engage each other so fully that everything else seems to fall away.  It's a high point and the moment you feel that these actors have truly created a family—one we’ll definitely miss.

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Lori Wilner

Broadway Bound


Geva Theatre Center


Photo: Ken Huth