Friday, February 10, 2012

Review: (Toronto) Zero Hour

Speaking to the Past
Must one read Wikipedia before a show?
by Beat Rice

Zero Hour is a full length one-man show that tells the biographical story of artist, comedian, and actor, Zero Mostel. The play is written and performed by Jim Brochu, who knew Mostel personally. 
Jim Brochu is a captivating performer who maintained an energy that is necessary to carry a one-man show. The context of his telling of his life story is an interview with a reporter from the New York Times. The reporter is invisible as Mostel responds to his questions and comments on his clothes. The audience eventually finds themselves in the position of the reporter, listening and responding to Mostel’s story. He starts off in chronological order, hitting on the most important and influential events in life. Act 1 focuses on the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and the blacklisting that occurred in the 40’s in America, which accused people (namely very influential artists and people in the entertainment industry with access to media) of being communists and conducting ‘Un-American activities’. The blacklisting of these individuals destroyed their careers, reputation, and even some lives. Zero tells his side of the story with passion and sadness, as we watch him relive those harrowing days through his memory. 
...a joy to watch onstage.

Act 2 was a continuation of the interview covering Mostel’s success as an actor, on Broadway and in film. He spoke of working with Jerome Robbins, a man he despised for naming names to HUAC, but highly respected for his artistic genius. We learn a little bit about his film career, but not much. I am not familiar enough with the real Zero Mostel to know if Jim Brochu’s portrayal is an accurate portrayal or a mere homage, but his performance was very realistic and believable. He played a man of sharp wit, who has a funny way of putting words together, a man with theatricality who shows every emotion, and a man with a crude sense of humour paired with artistic sensitivity. He really is quite the personality and is a joy to watch onstage. 
One personal qualm I had with the play was the many references I did not understand. It is my own lack of knowledge that is at fault, others in the audience who are more familiar with the artists and political figures and events of the time would understand. There were also Jewish terms/traditions/stereotypes that eluded me and there were times when my ignorance frustrated me (especially when everyone else was laughing), but the moments were fleeting, and I would return my attention as Mostel continued to tell his story.
I do however appreciate the allusions for it did take us back and helped create his world at the time.
There were a few times when Piper Laurie’s staging became dull. With such a large stage and cluttered set, and only one actor, the movement seemed confined to down stage centre at the work table and occasionally an armchair. If that was the ideal way to stage the piece, perhaps a smaller performance space would have helped it feel less mundane.  

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