This review of Neil Simon's 45 Seconds From Broadway at Studio Theatre Long Island was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
45 Seconds From Broadway
Written by Neil Simon
Directed by David Dubin
Studio Theatre Long Island
141 South Wellwood Avenue
Lindenhurst, New York
Reviewed 8/9/15 at 2:30 p.m.
45 Seconds From Broadway is a comedy by Neil Simon. The play opened on Broadway on November 11, 2001 and closed on January 13, 2002 after 73 performances and 31 previews. The title refers to the amount of time it takes to walk to Broadway from the play's setting, a New York City Jewish restaurant fashioned after Cafe Edison located off the lobby of the Edison Hotel since 1980. Affectionately known as the Polish Tea Room, Harry Edelstein and his wife Frances served "theatre types" cheap, comforting, inexpensive Eastern European food in a casual atmosphere for many decades. Now, because the Edison Hotel is undergoing a multi-million dollar renovation, Cafe Edison was forced to close its doors on December 21, 2014. As a result, it is the perfect time for Studio Theatre Long Island to produce this play.
Neil Simon has an eclectic mix of characters eating and conducting business at this iconic location, which include Jackie Mason-style comedian Mickey Fox and his brother Harry Fox; Bernie & Zelda, two generous proprietors based on the Edelsteins; Andrew Duncan, a British impresario interested in booking Mickey for a gig in London; Soloman Mantutu, a thieving, annoying, pushy South African playwright; Megan Woods, a wide-eyed aspiring actress fresh off the bus from Ohio; Arleen and Cindy, two theatre-going classic matinee ladies from the suburbs who voice familiar objections about the state of Broadway today; Bessie, an actress ready to abandon New York City for a career in Los Angeles; and Rayleen and Charles, an eccentric, elderly couple who get the lion's share of laughs throughout the play (Rayleen is a grand and flamboyant woman on the verge of senility, and Charles is her long-suffering escort and caregiver, who remains silent until he eventually explodes).
The play reminds me of the television show Seinfeld that originally ran for 9 seasons from July 5, 1989 to May 14, 1998. That show was known as being a comedy about nothing. Just characters living and sharing their lives. Perhaps Neil Simon was inspired by that premise because here, you have characters coming in and out of this coffee shop, in no particular order and with no particular purpose. The show is basically a series of incidents with a paper-thin plot that lacks any substance. Things just happen. The owners of the cafe give jobs to Megan and Soloman; Arleen and Cindy kibitz all day long; Andrew Duncan tries to find the right play for Mickey Fox to star in; Harry Fox implores his brother to help his son break into the business; Bernie makes a mistake in trying to sell the shop without consulting his wife; Bessie is used to make a statement about racism and racist jokes; and while Rayleen and Charles are used to hilarious effect, the twist at the end regarding their characters is extremely depressing and may even have a long-term, emotional impact on you. Add in a number of one-liners from Mickey such as his saying that "when you are dead, things slow down a bit" or his commenting on Rayleen's fur coat by saying, "with one coat, she cleaned out the entire Bronx Zoo" and you have the play explained and summarized in a nutshell.
The standout performers in this production were Frank DiSpigno, who did a wonderful job as Mickey Fox speaking in the style of Jackie Mason; Brooke Barbarino, who was perky and charismatic as Megan Woods, the new actress in town; Judith Anderson, who nailed the part of Rayleen, reminding me of many grand dames I knew back in the day; and Jules Jacobs, whose deadpan facial expressions enabled his character Charles to get many laughs. At one point in the play, Rayleen explained that their chalet burnt down. She went on to say, "you can't rely on Charles to yell fire." The other actors in this production did a perfectly fine job in their respective roles with the exception of Josh Bellinger, who was very weak as Soloman Mantutu, the "Zululian" playwright. I am not even certain he made the effort to speak in a South African accent. Just speaking slowly and methodically really doesn't cut it.
If you don't make too many demands in terms of plot and story development, there are plenty of funny lines and interesting characters in Neil Simon's 45 Seconds From Broadway to enable you to enjoy this light-hearted tribute to the Broadway regulars who ate and hung out at the now defunct Polish Tea Room. In fact, before the show and during the intermission, you are able to buy concession items from the set of the coffee shop and are even permitted to sit in the booths and at the tables on the stage. Since Cafe Edison is now closed, this is your last chance to bring back memories of having eaten at that establishment.
45 Seconds From Broadway plays at Studio Theatre Long Island through August 23, 2015. Tickets are $25.00. For more information, call 631-226-8400 or visit: https://www.studiotheatreli.com/