The dining room table is at the center of Kate Jerome’s life, a life devoted to caring and cooking for her family. So it’s intensely meaningful that — though she spends long periods of time waiting for her husband, Jack, to come home and eat and continually encourages her two grown sons, Eugene and Stan, to sit at the table — you never see everyone seated together for a meal in Neil Simon’s Broadway Bound, playing at Miners Alley. The only person who does eat there, grumbling continuously, is Kate’s cantankerous socialist father, Ben.
Simon is best known for his light-as-air comedies, but Broadway Bound is the third in a serious — though hardly humorless — autobiographical trilogy written in the 1980s; the others are Brighton Beach Memoirs and Biloxi Blues. The play is a realistic family drama, although young Eugene Jerome, clearly a stand-in for Simon himself, occasionally steps out of the warmly cluttered frame to deliver a comment or explanation directly to the audience. The action takes place in the late 1940s. The war is over, times are rapidly changing, and everyone in the family is seeking his or her place in the world. Kate clings to her traditional role. Ben, who knows Jack is about to leave and that his grandsons will soon be trying their luck in the world, worries about leaving Kate alone and retiring to Florida, as his wealthy daughter Blanche — who married money — urges. Eugene and his excitable older brother, Stan, are hoping to break into show business as comedy writers. Their talk about what comedy is and what makes a good script provides an interesting commentary on Simon’s own work and the play itself.
When the sons finally get a piece on the radio, the entire family and pretty much the entire neighborhood (offstage and out of sight) gathers to listen. Each listener comes away with his or her own interpretation. Kate observes that the hovering mother figure sounds familiar, grandfather Ben frets about the lack of real content — political, for him — and the meaninglessness of just making people laugh. Jack, who thinks the script mocks his infidelity, is furious. Despite his bewilderment at these responses, Eugene acknowledges there may have been unconscious anger and malice in some of the jokes.
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The characters are all richly drawn, and kudos to director Kate Gleason — a fine actor in her own right — for assembling equally rich performances. Poor Jack doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on. He’s a tired man who spent 33 years of his life making an uninspired living in the garment industry, and his affair turns out to be far more complicated than the rest of the family ever suspected. Rory Pierce gives an effective performance in the role. Ben despises Blanche’s wealth, her Cadillac and fur coat, and resists the siren call of Miami. He may be cranky, selfish and eccentric, but he’s quite clear about one thing: Kate is about to endure profound pain. How can he leave her in an empty home? Tim Fishbaugh’s performance as Ben is terrific, moving and nuanced, and Jacqueline Garcia is a warm-spirited Blanche. James O’Hagan Murphy’s Stan is arrogant, ridiculous, insecure and full of insane energy — perhaps a touch too much at times. Julian Vendura, a young actor who’s a genuine find, plays an endearing, funny, caustic and intermittently wise Eugene.
But Kate is the heart of this household, and Cindy Laudadio-Hill gives a beautiful performance in the role. She’s entirely convincing as a 1940s Jewish housewife: no self-consciousness, no phony accent, just a deep immersion in the role. There’s a pivotal moment when Eugene persuades Kate to describe the peak experience of her life: the evening at the Primrose Ballroom when, as a young woman, she danced with the soon-to-be-famous George Raft. I’ve seen dozens of plays that use a single, long monologue to provide climax and revelation, but this scene is a little more complex and interesting because, as Kate speaks, Eugene provides commentary, essentially transforming her memory into a movie in his mind. Until she silences him with a single flat sentence: “The movie isn’t over yet.”
And it isn’t. Not for the Jeromes, whose lives we’ve been privileged to share for an evening. Not for any of us traveling through our own messy biographies with no idea where time will take us.
Broadway Bound, presented by Miners Alley Playhouse through August 20, 1224 Washington Avenue, Golden, 303-935-3044, minersalley.com.