by Lynn on April 3, 2011

in The Passionate Playgoer

Jim Brochu as Zero Mostel

At the Al Green Theatre. Written and performed by Jim Brochu. Directed by Piper Laurie.
Presented by the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company.

Zero Mostel was a larger than life Jewish American comedic actor. He was the original Tevye in the Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof; the original Pseudolus in the Broadway production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum; and the shadiest of theatre producers in the Mel Brooks film, The Producers.

It’s 1977. A New York Times reporter has come to Zero Mostel’s studio to interview him. Mostel does not want to be disturbed. He’s painting. To ensure that the reporter has done his homework Mostel asks: “When was I born?” The reporter replies correctly and the ‘interview’ is on. This takes the form of Mostel talking usually without being asked a question. Mostel talks about his first name. He was really named Samuel. A smarmy announcer in a club introduced him as “Zero Mostel” because the announcer didn’t think Mr. Mostel had a future in show business.

He was obviously wrong. In the course of the play we are told Mostel was blacklisted in the 1950s because of who his friends were, but years later was invited to dine at the White House. He took criticism and slights badly. He had an explosive temper but grieved his whole life at the senseless loss of a close friend. He was an actor who considered himself a painter before anything else. He was about to start rehearsals to play a re-imagining of Shylock but died soon after. Zero Mostel was 62 years old.

Needless to say Zero Mostel was a man of huge contradictions. He is brought to vivid life by Jim Brochu who wrote Zero Hour and also stars as Zero Mostel. We first see him hunched over his easel, painting. His back to us. When he turns around to see the (invisible) reporter who has come to bother him, the look is of a fierce Mostel. There is the ubiquitous ‘comb-over’, the flashing eyes and the dramatic black and white beard. Jim Brochu is compelling, raging, charming, funny and sad—all this under the watchful eye of director Piper Laurie (yes that Piper Laurie).

Brochu is a better actor as Zero Mostel than a writer. The first act is full of cheesy one-liners, perhaps to disarm the reporter. There are clichéd phone conversations with his wife in which Mostel feigns fury that she’s called him at the studio. It wears thin. One wonders why the reporter is there to interview Mostel in the first place—Mostel isn’t plugging a show, so why is the reporter there? Also, if the reporter has done his job, as Mostel suggests, then the reporter would really know almost everything Mostel has told ‘us’ already. These concerns weaken the play.

However as the information gets more involved with Mostel’s career and its ups and downs, there is a certain eloquence in Brochu’s writing. Brochu has brought this angry, gifted actor to life and his affection for him is obvious.

Zero Hour plays at the Al Green Theatre until April 16, 2011.

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.