Corrections or additions?
This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the January 9,
2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
`45 Seconds from Broadway’
To explain the show’s title first: There is a coffee
shop (known locally as "the Polish Tea Room") at the Edison
Hotel. From there, it is a 45-second walk to Broadway. I am sorry
to say that I have never sampled the "specialties de la
in particular the borscht with boiled potato or chicken soup with
matzo balls, as have many a theater district denizen over the years.
But it is common knowledge that Neil Simon, author of 32 plays
"45 Seconds From Broadway," considers himself a faithful
Simon’s new comedy, I suspect, will not enjoy a life as long as the
coffee shop that inspired it.
I probably should have popped over to the Edison before the show to
see if designer John Lee Beatty’s realistic setting for the play
or pokes fun at the original. Whatever it evokes, the smell of borscht
can be imagined along with the very real serving of borscht belt humor
that spews mostly from motor-mouthed Mickey Fox (Lewis J. Stadlin),
the play’s central figure. Modeled almost libelously on stand-up
Jackie Mason, Fox holds court at the coffee shop between performances
of his one-man show that is playing down the block. With everyone
who drops in fair game for his insults, putdowns, and politically
incorrect quips, Fox presides unchallenged by the visiting hoi polloi,
especially by his less abrasive but singularly unfunny brother from
Philadelphia (David Margulies).
Hot to sign Fox for a London run is British producer Andrew Duncan
(Dennis Creaghan) who appears to be the one most amused by the
comic. Most of the patrons who wander in and out as well as the staff
are disposed to only fitfully interact with each other. Only in one
twist of the non-plot does the action of anyone impact significantly
on another’s life.
While it doesn’t take long to find Stadlin’s audience-pandering
and staccato delivery (an almost perfect match to Mason) grating,
off-putting, and annoying, it is with the arrival of Rayleen (Marian
Seldes), a scarily eccentric, wildly over-dressed upper West Side
New York matron that things momentarily look bright and hopeful.
Accompanied by her stone-faced husband (Bill Moor),
Seldes milks humor from every mediocre line she has with a florid
gesture. Seldes is an artist who knows how to create and fill a moment
when none actually exists. Her mere act of ordering a pot of tea with
two bags, each a different blend, is an instant classic, and ranks
in the same league with the legendary Beatrice Lilly. As the husband,
Moor also gets credit for provoking laughter without speech. Later
in the play, although the startling reversal in their relationship
doesn’t make any sense, it does add a brief of touch of poignancy
to a play that needs it and more.
For the most part, Simon seems content to follow the comings and
of Megan (Julie Lund), a young acting student from Ohio who lands
a job as a waitress at the coffee shop. Another character who might
be interesting in another play is Solomon (Kevin Carroll), a young
South African playwright who is trying to peddle his play in New York.
Solomon convinces Bernie (Louis Zorich), the cautious but
old owner of the landmark, to also give him a job as a waiter. During
the obligatory table-hopping, we learn that Ernie has secretly sold
the business and plans a move to Florida. This, without telling his
wife Zelda (Rebecca Schull), who (you guessed it) hates Florida.
Thrown into the mix are Arleen (Alix Korey) and Cindy (Judith Blazer),
two rich suburban ladies who do lunch and matinees and can be heard
finding fault with the shows they have been seeing, and Bessie James
(Lynda Gravatt), a black actress on her way to tinsel town.
Director Jerry Zaks does what he can with a group of excellent actors
who have been assigned to these one-dimensional characters with
to deliver and nothing remotely interesting to say on any subject.
There are some easy laughs, to be sure. But you may feel that Simon
has written the jokes first and then created the characters.
One thing for sure, Simon wouldn’t want to know what Arleen and Cindy
would have to say about this serving of stale borscht. As many of
Simon’s plays have had long lives and have become staples on stages
around the world, I may be amiss to say that "45 Seconds From
Broadway" isn’t likely to go beyond the Richard Rodgers Theater
on 46th Street. But I thought Simon had reached his nadir with last
season’s "The Dinner Party." It only goes to prove: There
is always one step further you can go. Two stars. Maybe you should
have stayed home.
— Simon Saltzman
West 46th Street, New York. $30 to $70. Ticketmaster, 800-755-4000
or 212-307-4100. Closes January 13.
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