They can't understand why the comic genius who wrote The Odd Couple and The Sunshine Boys, the two most laugh-ridden comedies since Moe came home from the war, should be dwelling on punk kids writing a comedy sketch, their parents' failing marriage, and an incontinent Communist grandfather.
It tortures them that this is no longer the work of the machine-gun gag writer extraordinaire of the '60s and '70s. ("You're not married, you're a bum.")
Broadway Bound is an old man's reverie. The third part of a trilogy of soft-focus memories on the rite of passage of one Eugene, a.k.a. Neil Simon, from a goofy, masturbating adolescent, to an owl-eyed World War II soldier entering the odd vicissitudes in his journal, to a burgeoning Neil Simon on his way to fame and fortune as a gag writer. Simon is no Tennessee Williams, so this is no haunted dream play about being a prisoner of the past, yet a scene between Eugene and his mama where she explains the significance of the dining room table carved by her grandfather and her one night of rapture when she danced with movie star George Raft is as plaintive and evocative as anything from Williams.
This is no more Death of a Salesman than Burt Bacharach is Bach, yet there are touches of Arthur Miller in Simon's distraught father and son at cross purposes over betrayed marriage vows and unfulfilled expectations.
Simon doesn't have an ounce of Clifford Odets's working man poetry. Yet there is something infinitely touching about Simon's socialist grandfather, who hasn't laughed since the stock market crashed and hasn't been able to embrace his daughter since she married the richest man in Brooklyn. There is little here of the ribald old Simon or the whimsy of one of Oscar Madison's Odd Couple poker parties. Yet it is as heartening as paging through an album of yellowing photos to experience Eugene, his writing partner brother, and his family gathering around the radio to hear those first lame comedy sketches on the airwaves.
Director Sarah May may not have Mike Nichols's uncanny ability to turn dross into gold, but she has the savvy pacing and expertise of any early-'30s director at Warner Brothers to make the thinnest dialogue snap, crackle, and fizz. May might not be a daughter of Israel, but she has an uncanny knack for Jewish timing and inflection. Despite not having an up-and-coming Marlon Brando, George C. Scott, or Kim Stanley in her cast, she has William Galewood's curly headed, crisp Eugene, who is brimming with youth, sincerity, and freshness. Equaling him in vitality and sincerity are Judith Black's wry, brisket-making mama and Marvin Rosenberg's Yiddish St. Nick Commie Grandpa. And though they may not be flying out to Hollywood in the foreseeable future to pick up their Oscars, Mary Jane Nottage, as the wounded aunt, and Amir Miodovnick, as the ever-eager older brother, are good enough to consider quitting their day jobs.
As to period detail and production values, we may have to refrain from hosannas but feel perfectly justified in offering at least kudos and a half.