CEDAR CITY — Broadway Bound by Neil Simon is a story of dreams. Whether those dreams are chased or forgotten or abandoned or sacrificed or lived, they shape and mold and direct those who have them. The story of Broadway Bound is narrated by Eugene Jerome, played by Trevor Messenger in this production. He and his older brother Stanley (played by Christopher Whiteside) are young aspiring comedy writers with big dreams of fame, fortune and girls.
Eugene is lighthearted and carefree, observant and thoughtful. These are all good qualities for the narrator of a story. His observations are humorous, though they are more fitting to the humor of the late 1940’s than the 21st century. Stanley, on the other hand, is wound so tight it’s hard to believe he can even enjoy comedy let alone write it. If his dream had been to open an auto mechanics shop or a Jewish deli it would have been more believable. However, because his comedy writing is pivotal to the plot, changes should have been made in the portrayal of the character. I didn’t detect an ounce of joy in his work, just tension. Stanley spends a great deal of the play yelling at Eugene for not working hard enough or not taking things seriously enough or not wanting their big break badly enough. Eugene responds with sarcasm and flippant humor, and Stanley gets angry again. It’s uncomfortably realistic, as is much of the familial interaction in this show. The arguing between siblings hit too close to home for me, and while I appreciate the realism of it, I just wanted it to stop. Every time the two brothers were talking to each other I got more and more stressed out as the conversation went on and I couldn’t wait for the play to move onto the next scene. I wanted to climb up on stage and order them to stay in separate rooms until they’re ready to talk nicely like brothers who love each other.
Other relationships in the play have similar contentious energy. Tensions between father and daughter, betrayal and confrontation between husband and wife, argument between in-laws, they’re all realistic and intense. I imagine that these different relationships will hit close to home for different people. Director Clarence Gilyard made excellent choices in the cast, choosing actors who had wonderful familial chemistry together. I believed their relationships, especially the marital and sibling relationships.
When I walked in and first saw the set I thought I was about to watch a farce. There are dynamic diagonal lines, bright colors, and lots of doors for hilarious comings and goings. But as the play went on I forgot I had expected a farce and the set became a home. Designed by Randy Lawrence Seely, the set felt lived in and loved, like it held decades of memories. While it was a family of five who lived there, it was the mother who kept the house orderly and comfortable and took the space between walls and made it a home.
Even though Eugene narrates the play, the real star of the show is his mother Kate, played by Kristen Sham. Kate is the center of life for the rest of the characters. She feeds them, takes care of them when they’re sick, holds her family together through illness, separation, and betrayal, and it’s not until the last 20 minutes of the show that the audience really gets to see her shine. Aside from a quick cameo from her sister, up to that point the play has been about all the men in Kate’s life: her squabbling children, her crotchety father, her grumpy disengaged husband. She puts everyone’s needs before her own for years, only once demanding just a little bit of consideration from her husband. Almost at the end of the play Eugene convinces his mom to tell a story about her youth, and after some coaching Kate comes out of her shell and just absolutely sparkled. The whole play is a very effective metaphor for how the lives of women can get buried under the much louder lives of the men around them, especially during that era. I recommend this play if only just to see the end.
Broadway Bound is part of the Neil Simon Festival and it the second installment in a trilogy about Eugene Jerome. (Brighton Beach Memoirs is precedes it, and Biloxi Blues is the last part of the story.) However, it is not necessary to know anything about the other plays to enjoy watching Broadway Bound. Yes, there are laughs, but seeing authentic relationships among the characters is reward enough for attending this production.