CULTURE WATCH — There’s something distinctive about a Neil Simon play; the quick patter, the complex relationships, the neighborhood (Brighton Beach especially), and sometimes these elements play out poignantly and pointedly.
In the case of “Broadway Bound,” just extended at The Odyssey Theatre, all the elements are there, it’s just that they don’t seem to meld. Like the split-level stage set, in the directorial hands of Jason Alexander (George Costanza in Seinfeld) it feels like we are watching two different plays. This is the third in Simon’s semi-autobiographical Brighton Beach trilogy and Alexander appeared in the original Broadway cast in 1986.
The year is 1949, television is a new medium, and it’s the post-World War II era when the past and the future are staring each other down. Memories of the past and dreams of the future create a bifurcated present, in which the two adult Jerome brothers, Eugene (Ian Alda) and Stanley (Noah James) are still living at home with their family and about to get their first break in show business, writing a comedy sketch for CBS.
They are loud, oh so loud, in contrast with their quietly dignified mother Kate (Gina Hecht) and their rather prosaic father Jack (Michael Mantell), a pattern cutter, who is seeing another woman which creates a disruption in the family fabric that is felt but not discussed openly.
After 33 years, the marriage is on the cusp of dissolution. Grandpa Ben (Allan Miller), who falls asleep at the table, is also separated from his ailing wife who wants to live in Florida, something this devout Trotskyite can’t begin to imagine doing. And Kate is still trying her best to keep the household together, the very mission of her life.
After a vast amount of neurotic energy and anxiety (and yelling), Eugene and Stan finally do write a sketch, which gets placed on radio instead of TV, and as the family and all their neighbors, friends and relatives gather around their radios to listen, the humor falls flat at home. It’s too close to reality and based on far too much truth for the family to find the laughs. And the family knows that everyone around them will see the sketch as a thinly veiled expos√© of their situation.
After this, everything will change. The truth comes out between Kate and Jack, the boys will move out as their career takes off, and Eugene has a wonderful scene with Kate reminiscing about the night she danced with George Raft at the Primrose Ballroom as they, too, dance with one another. This is one of the best moments of the production.
The set is extraordinary, with period furniture, wallpaper, chairs, and couch that are as real as my right hand. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a set as elaborate as this at the Odyssey.
And Gina Hecht is the absolute star, moral and emotional center of this show. Unfortunately, the others are there energetically but somehow missing the more subtle heart at the core of these characters, in this reviewer’s opinion.
“Broadway Bound” plays through September 28 at The Odyssey Theatre in West Los Angeles. Tickets and info at (310) 477-2055 or www.OdysseyTheatre.com.

Gronk at Bergamot
East L.A.-born and bred, the artist known as Gronk (born Glugio Nicandro) has quite an eclectic pedigree. A founding member of the 1970s Chicano arts collective known as ASCO, his bright and explosive work has been seen on opera stages and museums across the world, from L.A. to Spain to Russia and France, and he’s made big splash in particular with the world-renowned Santa Fe Opera, alongside opera impresario Peter Sellars.
Lora Schlesinger Gallery at Bergamot Station features its first solo exhibition of Gronk’s work, called “Ruins,” featuring abstract paintings and works on paper. The show opens to the public on September 6, but mark your calendars now. On Saturday, Sept. 13, Gronk gives an artist’s talk at the gallery at 4:30, followed by what no doubt will be a colorful and super fun reception from 5 to 7 pm. The exhibition remains on view through October 18th.
For this show, Gronk brings the abstract concepts that he conceived in preparation for and in response to, his experience painting the sets for Sellars’ adaptation of Henry Purcell’s opera The Indian Queen. With elements reminiscent of Mayan ruins alongside modern day graffiti, he creates his own visual language of hieroglyphics, pictograms and calligraphy. A show not to be missed.
Find out more at www.loraschlesinger.com, or call (310) 828-1133.

Food Rebels on PBS
Here’s a show you don’t have to leave home to see. With so much emphasis in the media and amongst advocates about what’s wrong with our food system, “Food Forward TV” is a 13-week series that celebrates those who are doing what’s right, the food rebels who are leading the charge to change the way we produce food in America.
School lunches, grass-fed modern meat, the farm-to-table movement and even raw milk are on the agenda, with the rock stars of sustainable food production featured in informative, entertaining and mind-opening half-hour segments.
This is not preachy stuff, it’s presented not just as some “good for you” documentary but provides engaging and smart storytelling with provocative ideas that matter more than ever.
PBS SoCal, the Orange County based channel that now serves as the cornerstone of public TV programming since KCET went independent, will be broadcasting on Sundays at 6:30, starting this Sunday, Sept. 7. If you forget to watch or set your DVR, you can catch the series online at www.pbs.org/foodforward.
By the way, Food Forward TV is not affiliated with the non-profit gleaning organization, Food Forward (www.foodforward.org) that harvests and recovers food that would otherwise go to waste, with 100% donated to feed those in need.

Sarah A. Spitz spent her career as a producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica and produced freelance arts reports for NPR. She has also reviewed theatre for LAOpeningNights.com.

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