By Mark A. Leon
Midtown Productions, “Broadway Bound” written by Neil Simon and adapted to the Lowcountry live stage by director Sheri Grace Wenger and technical director Ryan C. Ahlert is a story filled with warmth, ambition, love, infidelity, and the zany insanity we all come to know as family.
A strong play is culminated by the combined forces of a compelling story, well-developed characters, complex plot twists, relatability and emotion, but most of all, an exceptional cast bonded by the passionate commitment to embody their characters.? This is one Charleston area play that stands on a solid foundation of highly entertaining quality because of a prominent cast who have brought to life this Brighton Beach family whose intertwining lives lead the audience up and down a roller coaster ride worthy of Coney Island.
Narrated by Eugene Jerome, played with endearing charm by Justin Borak, the story centers around three generations of Jerome’s, living under the same roof, all facing major life decisions.
Ben Epstein is in the twilight of his life struggling to give up all he has known to leave New York behind, Kate and Jack are coming to grips with the loss of love after 33 years or marriage and Eugene and Stanley are two brothers on the cusp of writing their way into stardom.? Over the course of two hours, the audience will witness a series of transformations, leading to some massive life changes, but in the end, family, good and bad, do provide a haven of understanding, loyalty and hope.
Michael Okas and Justin Borak, as Stanley and Eugene Jerome, have tremendous chemistry on stage together.? Stanley, the uptight business minded brother and Eugene, the comedic, heart on his sleeve, slightly sarcastic, starry-eyed romantic brother.? Together, you feel as if you were watching the early evolution of Neil Simon’s “Odd Couple” characters being developed right before your very eyes.? Together, Michael and Justin fed off each other’s personalities and nuances to create memorable comedic scenes.
During one scene, that lasted several additional seconds due to extended audience laughter, Stanley is screaming into his mirror reaffirming confidence in himself.? As he turned back to his brother, you can sense both actors ready to burst into an unscripted explosion of laughter, yet they both held it in.? This was a moment that reinforced the commitment to character and the chemistry shared by this fine cast.
Bill “Terry” Terranova, played Ben Epstein, the father to Blanche and Kate and grandfather to Stanley and Eugene.? Bill provided a dry sense of humor and truly talented sense of comedic timing.? His lines and dated generational outlook on life were just the right mix to bring balance to a family that was fueled by emotion.? During several moments of the production, as his sat on the couch or dining room table, his character resembled the stoic, scarred and damaged heroism of Dustin Hoffman’s Willy Loman (Death of a Salesman).? With a pan face, aged, but still firm prominence, Bill brings to life a character that shows he still has so much to offer.
Ben Epstein was a man raised in a generation taught to refrain from emotion, but years of repression cut down by a family fueled by emotion, have broken the walls and exposed a sign of penetrating love and acceptance.? During several scenes, in his own traditional way, he gave reassurance and provided a level of prominence that he once knew as a younger man.? Bill truly brought to life a complex and well-designed character.
Michael Catangay plays Jack, husband to Kate and father to Eugene and Stanley.? We learn early on that Jack has a moment of infidelity, but, as the story evolves, we learn there is so much more complexity to the story.
We are all faced with moral indecision in life, some are black and white, but most are filled with layers of grey.? Jack’s situation, though not morally sound to most did have a silver lining and that sub-plot provided an essential element to the story line.? Michael took on this serious role with poise and heart.? He put his character out of a limb for a great unknown and put in a beautiful performance given the challenging nature of the role.
Kate Jerome, perhaps had the most difficult of all the characters was played wonderfully by Lynda Harvey-Carter.? As a mother watching her two sons become successful having their eyes on the big city, witnessing her mother leaving for Florida and dealing with a husband who is not only cheating, but has fallen out of love for her, Lynda brought an unconditional blend of love and sadness to the stage.? Late in the production, Eugene describes his mother as someone who never had ambition to do anything with her life.? Maybe he was right or maybe he never saw through the unspoken ambitions deep in her eyes.
In perhaps one of the most powerful scenes in the play, Eugene asks his mother to tell the story of when she danced with George Raft.? As she recollects the story and the two of them reenact the dance, you see a glow in Kate’s eyes that has been missing for years.
“Broadway Bound” is a reflection of all of us.? Neil Simon has taken to heart the phrase, “Life imitates art” in every level of his writing.? He wrote about himself and his family, but he also wrote about each of us.? As I watched this production, I saw scenes from my own life come back in a haunting, yet soothing way.
This is a night you will remember.? Go and see “Broadway Bound”
Photo Credit:? Midtown Productions