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Review: ‘Zero Hour’ Has Lots of Pluses

By Sheila Kogan, Contributing Writer, June 15, 2017

Zero Hour is the one-man show written and performed by Jim Brochu about the legendary performer Zero Mostel. This current incarnation playing at the Theatre at St. Clement’s is a remounting of the original production presented in 2006.

When the lights came up on an artist’s studio set, Jim Brochu’s back was to the audience. As he turned to face forward, he looked so amazingly like Zero Mostel that the audience broke into instant applause. For approximately 90 minutes thereafter, using the conceit of being interviewed by an unseen reporter, Brochu as Mostel entertained us with anecdotes about the life of this very special, opinionated and talented force of nature.

Mostel began his performing career as a comedian, and Brochu’s script is full of the zingers, put-downs, insults and unexpected turns of phrase that were the stand-up comedian’s stock in trade; in other words, there are lots of laughs. Zero Hour is a wonderfully funny evening of theater.

Although Mostel had a comic’s view of the world, his life wasn’t always funny. He was involved in the terribly serious communist witch hunt that took ten years from his performing career. And the marriage to the love of his life, a Gentile woman, caused his beloved but traditional Jewish parents to declare him dead, as was the custom when a child married outside the faith.

A dramatic moment of this biographical theater piece was an uncomfortable irony: facing Jerome Robbins, who had named names during the communist investigations. Seething with hatred for the man who had caused such misery, Mostel insulted Robbins mercilessly, but worked with him nonetheless. Robbins had been brought in to fix a show out of town, which became the megahit, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Acknowledging Robbins’ genius, Mostel subsequently worked with him on another important show, Fiddler on the Roof. Neither Robbins nor Mostel were hired to do the film version of Fiddler, making Mostel complain that he is only known for being the fat one in the film, The Producers.

The unseen hand in this performance is that of Piper Laurie, the stage and screen actress, who handled the directorial duties. Brochu was never still, but his movements around the stage all felt motivated and natural. I was impressed with how Brochu, alone on a small stage of the Theatre at St. Clement’s, drew me into a world that he created all through the strength of his storytelling.

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Zero Hour presented by the Peccadillo Theatre Company at the Theatre of St. Clement’s through July 9, 2017. Written and performed by Jim Brochu. Directed by Piper Laurie; set and lighting design by Josh Iocovelli.

 

Cover: Jim Brochu in ‘Zero Hour;’ photo: Stan Barouh.


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