The bombastic and uproariously hilarious Samuel "Zero" Mostel, who is regarded as one of the funniest entertainers to ever hit Broadway and Hollywood, is stunningly brought to life by writer/actor Jim Brochu in his one-man biographical play Zero Hour, solidly directed by Oscar-nominated actress Piper Laurie.
Playing at the Aventura Arts & Cultural Center, Brochu' puts on a transformative performance that channels all of Zero's larger-than-life mannerisms, quirks and fiery discourses.
The play's setting is in Mostel's art studio in New York in 1977, where he is visited by a young New York Times reporter who's come to interview the comedian. Before the reporter can get into the meat of the interview, Mostel is already bloviating about his childhood. Mostel's life began in tumultuous fashion. His parents disowned him when he married a girl who wasn't Jewish. His love of painting and his sharp wit got him through the tougher times.
Mostel's bombastic humor is peppered throughout the play. He cuts into his Jewish heritage and its kosher observations when he exclaims, "Pork and shellfish are only to be eaten at a Chinese restaurant!" At another point, he quotes Larry Gelbart, "If Hitler is still alive, I hope he's out of town with a musical!" And half-jokingly calls FDR "one of the greatest Jewish minds of all time!"
It's his sharp over the top humor that also gets him into trouble. When federal agents start paying him visits after he's appeared in movies that were deemed "sympathetic to Communism," Mostel gets into the habit of quoting Trotsky to them.
It's here were Mostel's life and career take a dark turn. An entire era of Mostel's genius was taken from us by the House Un-American Activities Committee and their witch-hunt for Communist influence in Hollywood in the 1950's. Mostel's monologue turns mercurial and irate when he speaks of the blacklisted years. He spits contempt towards director Elia Kazan and his easy willingness to name names to keep his career going. He's unapologetic in his rage over Jerome Robbins and his cooperation with the HUAC.
Much to his own degradation, Mostel fulminates about how the greatest tragedy in his life is that, despite countless Broadway shows and Hollywood films, he'll only be remembered as the fat guy in The Producers. But after experiencing Mostel's tale, you learn that his was a life filled with triumph, tragedy, success, failure, and courage under fire. And, above all, gut-busting humor.
Look for our full review in this week's issue.
Zero Hour is playing at the Aventura Arts & Cultural Center (3385 NE 188th Street, Aventura) runs through February 27 on Wednesdays through Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets cost $36. Visit aventuracenter.org. Call 305-466-8002.