BYU opened its new theater season with a warm but sometimes unsettling production of Neil Simon's autobiographical "Broadway Bound." The recollection of the launching of his career as a comedy writer in 1949 is set against the backdrop of his parents' disintegrating marriage. The mix of pathos and laughter makes three hours pass quickly.
A strong cast, directed by Robert A. Nelson, gives life to a good script. Scott Claflin is exceptional as the quick-witted, occasionally philosophical, 23-year-old Eugene Jerome, who often addresses the audience directly. An aspiring comedy writer, Eugene finds himself living with an idealistic, overconfident older brother and parents and a grandfather who don't get his jokes.The characters of Eugene and Stanley are played by real-life brothers Scott and James Claflin; their verbal jousting and rivalry ring true. Tayva Patch is entirely believable as their seemingly humorless mother, Kate, whose life is validated by fixing meals for someone else to eat. The scene where she recalls a dance many years ago, then dances with Eugene, is a highlight.
Reese Phillip Purser plays Kate's aloof husband, who hasn't all that much interest in his sons, either. Theater faculty member Ivan Crosland shines in his role as the 77-year-old Ben, an avowed socialist who turns out to know more than he appears to be taking in.
Val Fullwood as Kate's rich sister seems less experienced on the stage; her Brooklyn accent is not nearly as well-developed as the others'. Still, the cast works well together.
It's impossible not to laugh as parents and grandfather sit, expressionless, listening to the boys' first comedy sketch aired on the radio.
Along with Simon's witty dialogue are some starkly honest moments, which sets this play apart from the many comedies he has written.
And, as one of the characters says, there are no clear-cut conclusions. But the long applause following Saturday night's performance proved that this Simon play is also a winner.
Charles Henson's lovely scenic design - a two-story house with a view inside the dining room, living room, upstairs hall and boys' bedrooms - adds to the flavor of the era, as do the '40s-style costumes. Lighting also enhances the production as scenes change.