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THEATER | REVIEW

In `Zero,' a legend incarnate

Jim Brochu's portrayal of Zero Mostel makes it seem as if he conjured the actor for help.

July 14, 2006|F. Kathleen Foley | Special to The Times

Teenage Jim Brochu met Zero Mostel while visiting a friend backstage at "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." They became friendly during the show's run, but when Brochu asked for Mostel's autographed picture some years later, the famously temperamental star screamed "You're not worthy!" Years later, Mostel came to see Brochu, then a professional actor himself, in a show. When Brochu returned to his dressing room, he found an envelope. Inside was an autographed picture of Mostel.

That picture can be seen in the program of "Zero Hour," Brochu's one-man show at the Egyptian Arena Theatre. By reports, Mostel was a mass of contradictions who vacillated between the explosive and the tender-hearted. Presented by the West Coast Jewish Theatre and directed by Paul Kreppel, "Hour" captures Mostel's rich contradictions in a loving but unvarnished homage as entertaining as the man himself.

Brochu seems almost fatefully destined to play Mostel, not only because he knew Mostel and can bring a deeply personal perspective to his portrayal, but because he is an almost uncanny physical match for his subject.

The action transpires in a backstage dressing room, a dankly atmospheric locale well rendered by set and lighting designer J. Kent Inasy. There, Mostel holds forth for the better part of two hours to an unseen interviewer.

The proceedings occasionally lapse into the worshipful. An obligatory rendering of "If I Were a Rich Man" interrupts the narrative flow and reminds us that, after all, we are not flies on this clammy dressing room wall.

But that's minor in light of Brochu's otherwise fine writing, which highlights the central events of Mostel's life -- including his McCarthy-era blacklisting and his recovery from a devastating bus accident -- without ever-belaboring chronology. In a subtly bombastic turn, Brochu reintroduces us to the funny, fantastically contrary Mostel. In all his biting intelligence and imperfection, he has been sorely missed.

*

'Zero Hour'

Where: Egyptian Arena Theatre, 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., Hollywood

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays

Ends: Aug. 13

Price: $30

Contact: (800) 595-4849, www.westcoastjewishtheatre.org

Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

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