By William Wolf

ZERO HOUR  Send This Review to a Friend

I went to see “Zero Hour” with some skepticism on hearing that it was a one-man show with the star performing as the late great actor Zero Mostel. Who possibly could manage to approximate the unique look, distinctive qualities and the larger-than-life demeanor of Mostel? Jim Brochu who wrote the play and stars in it is first seen with his back to the audience. When he turned around, the effect was electrifying. Yes, there stood Zero. And the minute he began to speak, the illusion continued. It turns out that Brochu has the character down pat, in the writing as well as in the make-up and performance.

The format is Mostel talking to the audience, a stand-in for the New York Times writer who in 1977 has come to interview him. Of course, Mostel gives him a hard time, at least until the discussion goes more smoothly. Lots of territory is covered, including the hurtful rejection Mostel received from his parents, his preference of painting over acting and most importantly, the shameful blacklisting period in which Mostel himself was a victim, as were his friends, including actor Philip Loeb, who after being hounded jumped out of a hotel window.

There is much passion in Brochu’s delivery, reflecting the deep feelings Mostel apparently had. He spews hatred at Jerome Robbins, who named names before the Un-American Activities Committee, yet tells how he later worked with Robbins in the theater, drawing a distinction between art and politics.

As serious as “Zero Hour” is, the performance is filled with humor, given the author/performer’s skill at picking up on what was so funny about Mostel and his use of humor to make a point. The show is also peppered with a few jokes that have been currently making the rounds and seem more like inserts than humor Mostel would have used at the time. But then again, most jokes are old, and if an audience hasn’t heard them they seem new.

The play could use some trimming after the intermission, but the amazing performance hold’s one’s attention and engenders appreciation both for what Brochu has accomplished and for the special character and talented performer that Mostel was. It is great to be reminded of this, and the section about the blacklist is important as information to a younger generation that didn’t experience the repression.

Another interesting point: The production has been directed by Piper Laurie, known primarily as a long-time actress of film, stage and television. She demonstrates here an added talent for directing, as the show never loses momentum in terms of speech or movement, and contains various flourishes to avoid anything static. Also, set designer Josh Iacovelli has done a good job creating Mostel’s Manhattan studio where he retreats to paint. At the Theatre at Saint Clement’s, 423 West 46th Street, $35-$55. Phone: 212-239-6200.


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