Neil Simon's "Broadway Bound" is being presented at an altogether attractively refurbished theater in the Gunston Arts Center in Arlington by Dominion Stage.
Formerly the Fairlington Players, Dominion Stage is justly delighted to make its home in this fresh and airy space, which has new sound and lighting and most-welcomed cushioned seats. Renovations delayed the present production's opening by one week, so the forthcoming weekend is your last chance to see the show.
"Broadway Bound," the last in Neil Simon's recent trilogy, is the only one not yet made into a film, so you must go to the theater to see it. This production will be worth the trip.
Described by many as a "love letter to his mother," this play includes two unexpectedly (for Simon) distressing scenes between the mother and father, whose marriage has ended. It also includes a charming, funny and bittersweet scene in which the mother describes to her son, Eugene, the night she danced with George Raft.
When she was 16, she danced very well indeed, and had heard of Raft's propensity for visiting local dance halls and seeking out the best dancers. Although she knew her parents would strongly disapprove, she went to the local "Primrose Ballroom" deliberately to attract his attention. They danced, as everyone watched enraptured. This story late in the play gives a sudden glimpse of another side -- proud, adventurous and daring -- to a woman we have come to regard as almost entirely self-sacrificing.
Eugene is the central character and narrator of all three plays. Here he joins with his brother Stan to write comedy. They spend several scenes in the play failing to write comedy sketches for a radio talent show. In desperation, they write about their family. When the family gathers to hear the radio show, they fail to recognize themselves. "She reminds me of someone, but I can't think who," the mother says of herself.
The play concerns the family living in the house and everything depends on a strong cast. Irving Frank is both endearing and delightful as the grandfather, Ben, one of Simon's finest and funniest characters: fiercely individualistic (he still believes in Trotsky), enormously kind, but feeling the gradual depletion of physical strength with age.
Elena Marie Abdou plays Kate, the mother, with the right practical vigor and huge heart. It is only when she must dance with Eugene that we do not quite get that flash of delicate grace and skill so exquisitely evoked by Linda Lavin in the Broadway production. Steve Rosenthal does a fine job of making whole the father, Jack, the play's least sympathetic and certainly most difficult role.
Al Keve is right on the mark with Eugene: bright, guileless, easy-going, and observant as a hawk. John Podhoretz captures nicely the crazed, yet somehow cozy, Stan, the elder brother.
The production also boasts a two-floored set -- a rarity in Northern Virginia spaces, the living-dining room on the ground floor and the boys' bedroom tucked neatly above. Both spaces are cleverly lit by John Burchett, although a trifle murky above. Lynn Lovett's properties deserve praise since they figure so importantly in such a domestic space, and though no program credit is given to costume, the flavor of the period has been faithfully suggested.
"Broadway Bound," Dominion Stage, Gunston Arts Center, Arlington. Through Sunday. For tickets call 683-0502.