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THEATER : Tragedy Turns Funny in 'Broadway Bound'

November 08, 1990|M.E. WARREN | M.E. Warren is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to The Times Orange County Edition.

Out of domestic tragedy, comedy sketches are born.

That's "Broadway Bound" in a nutshell, the bittersweet Neil Simon comedy currently enjoying a winning production by the Laguna Playhouse. The trick of the play is in orchestrating the tragic and comic strains to create a single melody in counterpoint. And director Jerry Evans pulls it off most of the time. Though the initial scenes feel forced for humor or mired in pathos, the second act is as smooth and sweet and bracing as the cup of honeyed tea Mama Kate concocts for her flu-sick boy, Eugene. And when mother and son dance together to the strains of Kate's girlhood glory, director Evans' sure hand guides them gracefully around the sentimental pitfalls of Simon's confessional portrait of the Jerome family. The performances throughout are solid and at times inspired. The gem of the evening is Harper Roisman as Grandpa Ben. His face is so expressive, his delivery so dry and consummately timed, his character seems to have grown organically from the soil of Simon's script. Stubborn, opinionated, funny and honest, Roisman's Ben is rather like New York itself: He's a delight to visit, but you wouldn't want to live with him.

As Eugene, David Kaufman is bright-eyed and knowing, with a pointed wit born of love and a determination to survive laughing. He handles the asides to the audience adroitly, and though commenting on events from a future perspective, his wisdom never deflates his boyishness.

Kathleen Collins' Kate has such grace and strength, one can well believe she was the finest dancer at the Primrose Ballroom. Collins comes so close to realizing the full dimension of this beautiful role, one wishes she would reveal a little more of the pain and hope her powerful presence suggests she is holding in reserve.

The handsome two-level set by Steven Maddy is impressive, though the furnishings, especially in the boys' bedrooms, are far more generic than the characters who inhabit the house. The occasionally sourceless lighting is disturbing in so naturalistic a setting, but the production is of very high quality overall.

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