DC Express Night Out:
ZERO MOSTEL WAS hailed as the greatest performer on
the American stage, but his star has receded since his 1977 death. Fortunately, Jim Brochu is putting Mostel's name in lights again, playing him with ferocious anger as well as with great joy.
Even many who have heard of Mostel may not know he was a painter first. Brochu's Mostel does touch on the star's triumphs — in "Fiddler on the Roof," "The Producers" and "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" — during a rude, hilarious and touching autobiographical interview, but the interview takes place in a painting studio.
Brochu, looking like an insane Santa Claus, is wildly intense, expressive, manic and comic. He announces he's made 25 Broadway shows, 50 movies and 10,000 paintings. He insists on painting a visiting (unseen) newspaperman and asks whether his guest purchased his coat during a total eclipse. "Art is life," he offers. "Of course you can quote me."
"Zero Hour" is an assault of punch lines, many of which are wonderfully subtle or rely on Brucho's dead-on, over-the-top animation. But the story has emotional heft as well, and is particularly focused on the Hollywood Blacklist and the subsequent suicide of Mostel's friend, fellow blacklist victim Philip Loeb.
"Everyone who's excluded is angry," explains the volcanic Mostel near the play's end. "And then the door opens and I don't really want to go in."
The play, written by Brochu and directed by actress Piper Laurie, premiered three years ago in Los Angeles; it goes to New York after its run at Theater J.
» Theater J, 1529 16th St. NW; through Sept. 27, $42; 202-777-3210. (Dupont Circle)
Written by Express contributor Tim Follos
Photo courtesy Stan Barouh