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Considered the most famous living playwright in America, Neil Simon’s reputation was already assured when he began his semi-autobiographical trilogy in the early 1980s. Though it had been there before, this trilogy significantly changed public perception about Simon. His wry and self-deprecating humor was also acknowledged for depth – for using that humor to touch on the most sensitive aspects of people’s imperfect lives.
The last of the three, “Broadway Bound,” now in a polished revival by the McCoy Rigby series at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, provides a fine illustration of this aspect of Simon’s work. The play touches heavily on aging, loss and the aches left behind when ambition, inflexibility, dysfunction and simply the passage of time disrupt the traditional family. Yet, all is done with a humor which often offers laughs as antidote to moments which would otherwise be tragic.
At La Mirada, a solid, comic, articulate cast directed with precision and intelligence keeps the story humming along, allowing the humor and potential tragedy to mix in ways which charm as they teach. The play is a series of portraits, and under the carefully choreographed direction of Jeff Maynard, an exemplary cast pretty much takes that task to heart.
The story holds echos of Simon’s own beginnings as a writer. Eugene, the narrator, lives at home but aspires to become a comic writer. His older brother and co-writer Stanley lands them their first gig. They face the dual struggles of coming up with material and living in a home full of people seemingly devoid of humor. And, just as they push for a success which will allow them to move out of the home they grew up in and into independence, their family is fracturing beneath them.
Ian Alda is Eugene, the burgeoning young writer, and the voice of Simon’s own wit. As such he must balance that element of observational humor with the immediacy of his character’s involvement in the storyline – a feat he manages with an almost casual seamlessness. As Stanley, Brett Ryback provides the almost frenzied ambition and creative anxiety against which Eugene’s own creativity blends or bumps. He must always vibrate with urgency, and Ryback makes that both believable and highly entertaining. Cate Cohen does what she can with her brief appearance as the comparatively two-dimensional aunt, whose second marriage to a wealthy man has left her happy, but a political anathema to her own father.
Yet, in truth, what makes this production are the character parts. Allan Miller’s grumpy socialist grandfather proves very funny, yet also unforgettable – a man achingly resolute, with an undercurrent of warmth which leaves him yearning for an affection he cannot bear to accept. Gina Hecht, as the dulled, long-suffering mother proves a wonder, particularly as she balances the tones of her current routine with the airy look back at her younger self. John Mariano’s version of the philandering father – part battle-weary trudger and part desperately wise – brings to him a sympathy not always readily present in productions of this play.
Bruce Goodrich’s set allows the entire house to be present at all times, bringing a seamless quality to this somewhat episodic story. Ann Closs-Farley’s costuming places the characters securely in their 1949 setting. Indeed, all the details blend into a must enjoyable whole.
So, go, but do not expect the tidy comedies of Simon’s early years. “Broadway Bound”, like it’s two brothers, “Brighton Beach Memoirs” and “Biloxi Blues” tell a very genuine tale of family, coming of age, comings apart, and foundations. That Simon makes you laugh as he tells it keeps the grimness at bay at times, but also underscores a certain survival skill which allows the Eugenes of this world to move up and out from difficult beginnings. Most importantly, in this production especially, you simply like all the people, even when they don’t particularly like each other. That is another aspect of classic, important Neil Simon repertoire.
What: “Broadway Bound” When: Through October 13, 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays Where: La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd. in La Mirada How Much: $20 – $70 Info: (562) 944-9801, (714) 994-6310 or http://www.lamiradatheatre.com