Zero Hour by Jim Brochu, directed by Piper Laurie, Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company
by Ryan Kerr
I was first introduced to Zero Mostel when I was a wee lad. The Sesame Street Book of Opposites with Zero Mostel both intrigued and terrified me. Here was a grown middle-aged man, on one page elated, and on the facing page agonized. It’s possible I would have better appreciated his work had I retitled it Sesame Street Book of EXTREMES with Zero Mostel. Looking back, I think my little brain was first introduced to the notion of “drama” in those pages. No wonder I grew up to be such a theatre enthusiast!
I was afraid Zero Hour, written and performed by Jim Brochu would be a nostalgic, fictionalized expansion of this book of funny faces and absurdities. I had never seen Zero play Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof nor had I any grasp of his illustrious career.
I knew he was Jewish, so I invited my Mom.We were both delighted with Brochu’s sincere and in many ways, elegant portrayal of Samuel Joel Mostel (later nicknamed “Zero” by a friend because he had come from nothing). The play is set in Mostel’s studio, where he is “rudely interrupted” by an eager New York Times reporter. The one-man play unfolds in the style of confessional interview, and given the intimate scale of the Al Green Theatre at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, it works beautifully.
Brochu channeled the musings and mutterings of this larger-than-life persona with simplicity and grace. There was an underlying tenderness to even the most outlandish outburst and wild gesticulation. Zero was a character – no doubt about that – but Brochu showed him as very real husband, father, and friend as well.
Mostel in real life was also a prolific artist, whose work is on display and for sale in an adjoining room to the lobby for the duration of the show’s run. (You don’t have to see the show to see his original art!) It’s a brilliant pairing. Mom and I were surprised at how dark the imagery in the paintings was, and the visual insight into the “real Zero” complemented the strokes of intensity in Zero Hour‘s second act.
Zero Hour pays delicate homage to a man whose quick wit and flaring personality could easily have overshadowed his formidable accomplishments. Jim Brochu portrayed Mostel’s zero to hero story with all the dramatic extremes, while hitting home the incredible human underneath the iconic comb-over.
Directed by Piper Laurie
March 26th – April 16th
Al Green Theatre 750 Spadina Avenue (at Bloor)
Tickets $40 – $65 (not a bad seat in the house)