Alumnus Howard Teichman chose to stage playwright Neil Simon’s most autobiographical work as the West Coast Jewish Theatre’s latest production.
But when Simon passed away in August, the show became a memorial to his legacy.
Inspired by Simon’s personal life, “Broadway Bound” will run through Oct. 28 at the Miles Memorial Playhouse in Santa Monica. Like Simon and his brother, the two brothers central to the play are comedy writers growing up in a dysfunctional, Jewish household. Teichman selected the play believing audiences would find interest in how Simon’s Jewish family impacted his identity and his writing. Though the play is specific to a Jewish household, Teichman said the intergenerational dynamic under one roof helps make the play universally relatable.
“I think everyone … can relate to the idea of having family and all the sufferings and pains and happiness and all the things that are part of being part of a family,” Teichman said.
The story follows first- and second-generation Jewish-Americans living in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, in the late 1940s. Jill Remez, who plays the mother Kate, said an aspect of Jewish culture connecting the family members is comedy and teasing each other. Many Jewish writers do not touch upon Judaism in their works, but the teasing remarks between characters acts as a cultural connection, Remez said.
The show emphasizes the fact that upholding cultural traditions while assimilating into a different culture keeps generations connected, Teichman said. Simon incorporates Jewish attitudes and ideas, such as caring for the oppressed.
“(Jewish audiences) see themselves on the stage – they’ve had those experiences,” Teichman said. “What makes Neil Simon such a wonderful writer is that he taps into those feelings, he taps into those concepts and ideas that makes us all feel Jewish.”
One audience member thanked Shelly Kurtz, who plays the grandfather Ben, for bringing her grandfather back to her, since the character’s mannerisms were reminiscent of her own grandfather’s.
Kurtz said Ben grew up with liberal socialist ideals, particularly seen in his care for society’s downtrodden – a sentiment Kurtz himself relates to. In the play, the grandfather tells his grandsons not to write comedy, but to instead use political satire to solve the world’s problems. Teichman said he relates because his own parents thought it was better for him to work in a factory than in entertainment.
“There’s this tug between wanting to become something that your parents don’t want you to become and yet still finding a way to make it happen in your own life, and so that’s what drew me to the show,” Teichman said.
The family’s influence can also be seen in the relationship between Kate and her sons. Remez said she thinks the play is Simon’s love letter to his mother, who provided the emotional support his unavailable father did not. Women of that generation revolved their lives around their families, and Kate was no exception, Remez said. Despite her pain and anger over her husband’s affair, Kate remains a funny character, which suggests Simon inherited his humor from his own mother, Remez said.
As the brothers leave home to follow their careers, the show highlights the different opportunities each generation has brought to the next in a shared reflection between the parents, Remez said. The uneducated parents discuss how the brothers leave home to a new world different from what they had growing up, similar to how Ben raised Kate in New York to give her a better life.
Kurtz said he hopes Ben’s character communicates the play’s goal of working to understand and appreciate all people. Kurtz said Ben lives in an evolving world with different beliefs and ethics than what Ben wants to pass on to his family – Kurtz sometimes asks himself what’s wrong with today’s kids because he doesn’t understand the new generation, just like Ben. However, both Ben and Kurtz have a desire to make people aware of others in order to relate with all people. Kurtz said the more people know each other, the less their differences matter, and they start to focus simply on their common desire to be loved and valued.
Simon’s passing ensured the cast and crew dedicated themselves to performing “Broadway Bound” exactly as the playwright intended it.
“His words, his stories, resonate deeply not just in Jewish culture, but in the American playbook,” Teichman said.