Arts & Events

Theater Review: Broadway Bound at Chanticleers Theatre

By Ken Bullock
Monday August 09, 2010 - 08:11:00 PM

"God, tell me an idea that makes you laugh ... "--Patrick Baresi as Stanley Jerome, is down on his knees, praying for a joke, a funny idea for a sketch that may propel him and his brother Eugene (Brady Woolery) out of the family home at Brighton Beach to Manhattan, a few miles away, and success in that new fount of entertainment, television. Or radio, at least ... 

But it's at home where the brothers pick up the comedy, from their straight-faced extended family—mother Kate (Sue Trigg), seldom-seen father Jack (Chris Chapman) and grandfather Ben (Kip Wixson)—and the family's on the verge of scattering, too, in Neil Simon's semi-autobiographical play, Broadway Bound, going into its final weekend at Chanticleers Theatre in Castro Valley, just a few miles away, over the hill.. The Chanticleers production's been selling out, and it's easy to see why. 

Director Marty Nemko of Oakland, UC Berkeley grad and former faculty member, has declared Broadway Bound his favorite play. Nemko played the father in a San Francisco production just a few years back. Concentrating on the life of the family as expressed by each of the five family members—as well as Kate's sister, Ben's other daughter Blanche (Karol Stremke)—the show reveals their different perspectives—and different humors—moving from comedy to seriousness, and back to amusement briskly. 

The Jeromes are coming apart at the seams. Grandfather Ben, an old socialist, lives apart from his wife, preferring to be alone in his room, contemplating Trotsky. Blanche, who's married up to Park Avenue, tries to reunite her parents—in retirement in Florida. And Kate and Ben hardly speak, Kate suspecting Ben of having an affair. 

Meanwhile, Stanley and Eugene plot their success—and their escape—while reacting archly to family life, mining it for its idiosyncratic, unintentional humor all the while.  

‘Chris Chapman and Sue Trigg (who directed several of Altarena Playhouse’s—and the Bay Area's—best shows in the past few years) are, in real life, husband and wife. Their scenes together are close studies of connubial understanding and misunderstanding, tension and directness. Alone with other family members, the tension and the directness take on a different character. A high point's Kate's umpty-umph recital, this time acted out in full, of her great triumph, having danced one night with George Raft. Eugene, who narrates the play straight across to the audience, is her instigator and accomplice, revealing a touching moment amid the war of attrition. 

Kip Wixson puts in a great turn as old Ben, playing the curmudgeon, but still the heart and soul of the family's humanity, its ethical arbiter. 

Marty Nemko's direction brings out the tenderness as well as the domestic madness of these real characters, in the vernacular sense of the word. He also regales the audience before the show with a set on piano: "My Funny Valentine," "The A Train," even a Joan Castle tribute. Marty's even got a mean pitch—but enough of that ... 

This is top notch community theater, a bargain ($15-$18) for an evening out, with a production featuring a fine ensemble, good production values (costumes by Lisa Danz, lighting design by Rob Ramsey and Kayvon Haghighi, set and theatrical consultation by John McMullen, who also reviews for the Planet), and a homey atmosphere, a delightful break from business—even show business—as usual. 


Chanticleers Theatre: 3983 Quail Ave., in Castro Valley Community Park, off Lake Chabot Drive, Castro Valley, 

(510) 733-5483;