'Broadway Bound' ventures boldly but shakily down memory lane

Nostalgic punch wrestles with self-indulgence in Jason Alexander-directed 'Broadway Bound' at Odyssey Theatre

The years have not been kind to “Broadway Bound.”  First produced on Broadway in the mid-1980s, Neil Simon's Tony-nominated, Pulitzer-finalist play shows serious flaws in its current revival at the Odyssey.

Following “Brighton Beach Memoirs” and “Biloxi Blues,” the play is the final offering in Simon’s semi-autobiographical “Eugene” trilogy, which traces the fortunes of aspiring comedy writer Eugene Jerome – the narrator and Simon’s fictionalized younger self.

Set in 1949, the action returns to the seaside community of Brooklyn's Brighton Beach as Eugene (Ian Alda) and his partner and brother Stanley (Noah James) scramble to establish themselves in the early days of television.

As they meet with success, the brothers' family life disintegrates.  Elder patriarch Ben (authoritative Allan Miller) refuses to join his wife in Florida, despite the plaintive efforts of his daughter Blanche (Betsy Zajko) to reconcile them.

Worse, Jerome and Stanley's dad Jack (Michael Mantell) is planning to leave Kate (warmly effective Gina Hecht), his wife of over 30 years – and the entire family is in a state of suspended dread waiting for that inevitable bombshell to drop.

It's an emotionally charged setup with plenty of nostalgic punch.  Director Jason Alexander, who played Stanley in the original Broadway production, ventures boldly down memory lane in a crisp staging that does full service to his committed cast.

The production is further buoyed by superlative design elements, including Bruce Goodrich's detailed set, Leigh Allen's unobtrusive lighting, Kate Bergh's perfectly in-character period costumes, and Martin Carillo's nostalgic sound.

Yet all those handsome trappings can't disguise the fact that “Bound” is a self-indulgent piece that strains for sentiment as it panders for laughs. Perhaps if Simon hadn't been so intent on sanitizing his situations and sanctifying his characters, this “Bound” would have assumed more believably human dimensions.

“Broadway Bound,” Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles.  8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Sept. 21.  $30.  (310) 477-2055 Ext. 2.  Running time:  2 hours, 35 minutes.

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