I get a little tense when I venture away from the beach. As long as I have an eye on the sea and can follow the coastline, I am assured as to where north lies. With an eagle’s eye, I’d surely spot C in New York as I talk to him on the phone.
Inland, I’ve mastered the route to the Home Depot, Publix and Slammer so that I don’t need to turn off the radio in order to concentrate on reaching them. (They are all conveniently located on the same street, as is home!) Everything else demands extreme attention, so you can imagine why I felt like Amelia Earhart-Frodo while on my thirty-minute way to the Stagedoor Theater in Coral Springs, and in the rain.
Give me my medals, for I made it on time.
I had come to see “Zero Hour”, a one-man show about Zero Mostel, written by and starring Jim Brochu, the partner of Steve Schalchlin. (I had seen Jim and Steve in the New York production of “The Big Voice: God or Merman?” which I entirely loved.)
Before the play began, Steve and I were talking about the fact that neither of us can be expected to drive a car from one place to another without some confusion, and that that is why we both have partners who excel at the business of the compass. As couples, we are both modern iterations of the biblical “Martha and Mary” in which one worked in the kitchen while the other sat at the feet of the Master, knowing that it was her lot in life, and that she shouldn’t mess with God’s plan by offering to set the table.
Then the house lights were extinguished, and from the very first second of “Zero Hour”, it became clear that Jim would drive, and that there would be cliffs, hairpin turns, dangerous intersections, and even a sideways hurdling M-15 Crosstown bus. Not to worry, he got us through the evening intact and thrilled with the ride. Be forewarned: this is not your grandmother’s one-man show. This is a startling, electrifying and explosive two-hour tour of a man who has a lot to say and doesn’t have time to make nice or to wait for us to ask the right questions.
I hate reviews that give away the particulars of a play, so I’d like to focus on the audience for a moment. No empty seats, and by dint of word of mouth and excellent reviews, the run has been extended. And yet, this is one tough cookie of a crowd composed mainly of local older married/pastel couples in which the yin and yang of husband and wife are expressed by interlocking bulges. Hers, the heliumed and champagne-tinted bouffant anchored with giant taupe sunglasses. His, the wide and white leather equator holding together a golfing ensemble as would someone’s bubbe clutch children and family heirlooms while in steerage from the old world. These people know from Jewish and New York. If you are going to stand on a stage before them and be funny or wise, you had better be damn good, because they’ve been there, they’ve heard it, they’ve said it and they’ve lived it.
Tonight, they loved it. They were rapt, as was I, by Jim’s performance. Even when they weren’t laughing, they were nodding or murmuring with agreement or entirely still during the tough moments, in that way in which you can almost see an unbroken plasmic connection between the man on stage and each member of the audience. I am quite sure that if it were not for the constant recharge he got from the audience, Jim would surely have fallen from exhaustion due to the relentless demands of what he has written for himself and delivers brilliantly and without a moment’s let up.
About the show itself, I came into it fearing the worst, as is my way (I also enter the Home Depot, Publix and Slammer with that attitude). I’ve sat through some one-man shows that are wistful rehashes that cobble together the actual bits from someone’s life without ever managing to justify the presumption that we ought to be interested because, well, we already know he’s famous. In this case, (and with this in mind, I later quizzed Jim over dinner about several lines, wanting to know if Zero had actually said them. Oh, and may I say that all those jokes about this being the land of the 4PM dinner are true. Even the nearby Coconut Creek Seminole Casino’s famous buffet closes before the show is over.) Jim has written entirely original dialogue (with an invisible interviewer seated among us) based on the frightening facts of the boldfaced Zero Mostel.
Have you ever encountered someone in a public place, someone who has a story to tell, and might be a little crazy, and it is so enthralling that you don’t want to break away, that you can’t break away, and you don’t care that you are going to be late for your destination because your plans are nothing compared to what this man is saying, and because you are smart enough to want to learn something from such a one?
That is “Zero Hour”. There are plans to bring it to New York where it will throttle and delight an even more demanding audience. If you miss it, you had better admit to yourself that you are just one of those people who is not curious about the strange lives of men who collar you and demand your ear. That you don’t want wisdom and a window into what really happened to people we might have seen only in passage. And if that is you, I cannot imagine why you’d be here reading this blog. If you are here, this show, “Zero Hour”, is for you.