The Heights Players’ first production of
the season, "45 Seconds from Broadway," directed by
Susan Montez, is one of Neil Simon’s most recent plays, having
been presented at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in 2001.
And while the comedy – written by Simon when he was well into
his 70s – is not among his best work, Montez manages to mine
the last ounces of humor out of the otherwise lukewarm play.
Which just goes to show, you can always light a fire with the
Having passed from radio and television gag writer (most memorably
for Sid Caesar’s "Show of Shows") to theatrical comedy
("Come Blow Your Horn," "Barefoot in the Park")
to musicals ("Little Me" with Cy Coleman and Carolyn
Leigh and "Sweet Charity" with Cy Coleman and Dorothy
Fields) to plays with more serious overtones ("The Sunshine
Boys," "Lost in Yonkers"), Simon seems to now
have an understandable yen for looking back on his career.
The forty-five seconds of the play’s title refers to the distance
between the Great White Way and a certain nameless coffee shop
where numerous theatrical characters hang out. The shop is owned
by the lovable and long-suffering Bernie (Jack Honor) and his
equally lovable and long-suffering wife, Zelda (Cathy Lemmon).
They serve nice Jewish food like blintzes and borscht, and employ
down-and-out theater hopefuls like Soloman Mantutu (Jerel Armstrong),
a penniless South African playwright, and Megan Woods (Julia
Morrissey), a young actress who has come to New York City to
become a Broadway star.
But the central figure in "45 Seconds" is comedian
Mickey Fox. Simon provides Fox with explosive volleys of jokes
and Ed Healy portrays the comic as if he has been waiting all
his life for this role.
When a haughty and mysterious woman named Rayleen (Laurie Muir,
who played the spiritualist Madame Arcati in last season’s "Blithe
Spirit") walks into the coffee shop wearing an extravagantly
ridiculous fur coat, Fox comments, "With one coat she wiped
out the whole Bronx Zoo."
Reflecting on his career, Fox says, "Although 50 percent
of my audience is Jewish, the other half sits next to them so
they can tell them what it’s about."
One can hear the echoes of a whole fleet of Jewish comedians
from vaudeville to the Borscht Belt in Fox’s one-liners.
Other coffee shop frequenters include Bessie (Alexandra Bosquet),
a wise and saucy African-American traveling entertainer, and
two friends who seem to have arrived straight from Long Island
– Arleen (Eileen Delgado) and Cindy (Jan VanderPutten), whose
commentary on the plays they have just seen could raise a smile
from the dead. One can easily imagine Simon chuckling ruefully
as he wrote the dialogue for these two amateur theater critics.
Although the play has no central plot, there are several intertwined
subplots. Will Fox travel to London to do a show for producer
Andrew Duncan (Michael Janove), and will he help his brother
Harry (Joe Cooper) by giving his nephew a break in the business?
Will Bernie really sell the coffee shop and break Zelda’s heart,
and will they move to Florida, a state she can’t stand? Will
Charles (Bill Wood), Rayleen’s semi-comatose husband, finally
break his silence, and if he does, what will he say?
Montez assembled a talented mix of newcomers and veterans for
this production. Honor has performed on Broadway and off-Broadway
in the Obie Award-winning "Moonchildren," and Bosquet’s
credits include the film "The Unknown Soldier," screened
at the Santa Barbara Film Festival. Meanwhile, Heights Players
veterans with a demonstrated ability in comedic roles include
Cooper (last seen in "The Odd Couple"), Janove ("The
Sisters Rosensweig") and Healy, who has appeared in so many
Neil Simon comedies he may become an honorary Jew.
The Heights Players production of "45
Seconds from Broadway" runs through Sept. 26, Friday and
Saturday at 8 pm, and Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets are $12, $10 seniors
and students. The Heights Players are located at 26 Willow Place
at State Street in Brooklyn Heights. For reservations, call (718)
237-2752 or visit www.heightsplayers.org.