Wednesday July 26th 2017

“Broadway Bound”

Neil Simon is one of my favorite playwrights. Over The years his comedies have made me laugh, but deep within all of his funny stories, one can see that many of these little character studies are his own life and the people who surrounded him during his formative years. This is even more obvious in his trilogy  of stories dealing with Eugene Jerome of Brighton Beach , an area of Brooklyn, New York, from the “memoirs” to his “Broadway Bound”, now on stage at The Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook. Directed by  David New, this is a story about the two Jerome brothers, Eugene ( skillfully played by Max Polski) and his older brother Stanley ( deftly handled by Jason Karasev), who have decided that they want to be comedy writers . During this period in their lives, it seems that their parents are going through some rough times. In most cases, Drury Lane is noted for its wonderful Musical productions, but from time to time, they opt to bring a little variety to the mix and this is a perfect production for them to take on. While the theater might be a little larger than the perfect setting for an intimate show like this one, under the skillful guidance of New ( who feels very close to this production from his own life experience with his brother) and a marvelous set by Collette Pollard, we, the audience truly feel that we are peeking in on a family that is very much like our own or that iof people in our lives.

The set is a two story home , one that allows us to watch each of our characters live their daily routines. There is their doting mother Kate ( a marvelous portrayal by Carmen Roman), their father, Jack ( Richard McWilliams) who is facing his seven year itch during his 33rd year of marriage, their Aunt Blanche ( the always reliable Paula Scrofano, one of Chicago’s finest) who has remarried into wealth, and last but not least, their grandfather, Ben ( the remarkable Mike Nussbaum, who offers a lesson for any would be actors out there as to just how underplaying can be as brilliant as overacting) who lives with the Jerome Family.

This is a semi-autobiographical work as Simon unveils some of his own family’s situations and problems for us all to see. In fact, in the story, the two boys, unable to come up with a quick radio sketch for CBS, find that what they live with may just be the answer. Let’s face it, all of our lives and families are surrounded by characters and many of the everyday things that occur in our lives are funny. We all know ( and love) characters who resemble these characters very closely, so watching this story unfold may trigger some personal thoughts and get an extra laugh, or even a sigh. While Simon is truly known for his comic touches , this story is more drama with comic touches than pure comedy, but New keeps it all tight and this wonderful cast takes Simon to a higher plain; one that is comfortable for all of those who are watching and thinking about their own families.

To many ethnicity’s family is of great importance. This particular family is Jewish, but if it were Hispanic, Italian, Irish or any other nationality, it would hold ( with a few  minor changes in food or slang) which is what makes it very universal. Eugene, our narrator/storyteller, who often steps out of the actual story to speak directly with us represents the playwright, Simon, himself and I found myself truly loving the way Polski related to us as well as the other actors. Nussbaum! What can I say about Mike Nussbaum that has not already been said ? This actor, who is over 80 years old, is a theatrical experience that every local theater-goer should see ( if they haven’t before) just to be able to say you saw the master at work. Watching him on stage is worth whatever the ticket price is- he is priceless and with the combination in this cast, you will have a memorable experience that is worth the trip to Oakbrook.

The tech for this productions is sterling: In addition to this wonderful set ( Pollard), the lighting by Jesse Klug, sound by Michael Griggs, Costumes by Linda Roethke and a marvelous array of props by Becky Marshall truly add to the overall experience which by the way will only last through  July 31st with performances as follows:

Wednesdays at 1:30 p.m.,Thursdays at 1:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.,Fridays at 8:30 p.m.,Saturdays at 5 and 8:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 and 6 p.m.

Tickets range from $35-$46 ( a real value for theater of this quality) and there are some packages with either lunch or dinner from  $49.75- $68 ( an even better deal when you see the scrumptious meals served up at Drury Lane) Students tickets available as low as $20 and Seniors as low as $29 ,matinees. ( $43.75 will get you a matinee and lunch-WOW!)

Drury Lane Oakbrook is located at 100 Drury Lane ( just north of the Oakbrook Shopping Center) with lots of free parking.

For reservations call 630-530-0111, or Ticketmaster at 800-745-3000 or visit www.drurylaneoakbrook.com

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