I have always hesitated to use the phrase “tour de force” in casual conversation or when writing a theatre review. For some inexplicable reason, I find it to be pretentious or overused-or both. However, Merriam-Webster defines the noun as “a feat or display of strength, skill, or ingenuity.” However, I’m afraid I must break my own rule; for there is no better description I can muster than “tour de force” to summarize Jim Brochu’s one man show Zero Hour.
Mr. Brochu both wrote and stars in this show about the larger than life star, Zero Mostel. Mostel was an accomplished actor of stage and screen, best known for originating the role of Tevye in the original Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof. Much to his dismay, he was also famous for his role of the conniving Max Bialystock in the classic Mel Brooks’ comedy, The Producers. “Do you know what the great tragedy of my life is,” Mostel says. “With 15 Broadway shows, 25 movies and 5,000 paintings left behind, I’m going to be forever known as “the fat guy from ‘The Producers.”
All of the action in Zero Hour, which is smartly directed by Piper Laurie, occurs in 1977 at Mostel’s art studio, a quiet haven where he can work on his paintings. Throughout the 90 minute show, he speaks to an unseen reporter from the New York Times and recalls his humble beginnings as a comedian in New York’s West Village (when his name was Samuel) to a famous comedian who would be forever known as “Zero.”
Brochu obviously did exhaustive research on his subject and has peppered his script with honesty, hilarity, and heartbreak. It doesn’t hurt that he bears a striking resemblance to Mostel either. Brochu’s mannerisms and facial expressions are perfection and his conversational tone make for an incredibly engaging theater piece. Both die-hard fans of Zero Mostel and newcomers to his life and career will glean additional insight into the struggles and triumphs of this emotionally complex personality.
Many performers can do solo shows. Few can do them as well-or with as much gusto-as Jim Brochu. So…pretension be damned! This is a tour de force performance that should not be missed!
Zero Hour is currently playing Off-Broadway @ St. Clement’s Theatre (423 West 46th street between 9th and 10th) through July 9th. For tickets and information, click here.