Character Man by Jim Brochu. Directed by Robert Bartley. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"...it will always be the Alvin Theatre to me..."
Jim Brochu; photo: Kevin Sprague
Jim Brochu's play "Character Man" is a living memoir. When you see it, and you should definitely see it, you may hear different stories than I did last Sunday afternoon. Barrington Stage Company is presenting the play - for critics they always provide a copy of the script - and on the St. Germain Stage at the Sydelle and Lee Blatt Center for the Performing Arts in Pittsfield, MA Mr. Brochu is telling the story of his professional life with an emphasis on how two men, in particular, helped him to become the man he is. A lot of what I heard is NOT in the provided script and a few things printed on those pages were not spoken on the stage. That is the nature of a memoir - it grows and alters with its repetitions.
What you will hear about is the life of character actor David Burns. Burns was a good friend of Brochu's father who introduced his son to his friend who then became his mentor and his inspiration. The elder Brochu, a dapper, handsome, man-about-town, is the third principal leg of the inner triangle of the story. Wings that flap off to the side include Zero Mostel, Jack Gilford, Barney Martin, Stephen Schwartz, George S. Irving, Cyril Ritchard, Charles Nelson Reilly, Kathleen Freeman, Joan Crawford, Jackie Gleason, Roland Winters, Jimmy Cagney and too many more to name. Stories abound. Songs are sung. Great performers evoked. Brochu, in his strange sweet way, brings to life two generations of Broadway's most interesting characters.
Make no mistake, "Character Man" is a delight, a delicious and well-stuffed chocolate bon-bon of a show. Joshua Zecher-Ross accompanies the actor in his songs and does a lovely job supporting the man of the hour - or eighty-one minutes. It's a sweet stopover with an actor you might recognize but have probably never heard of before. In part that is because, like all character men, you enjoy what others do because of all that he does with them. His career spans the great years of Broadway, the 1960s until now. His art, though, spans the ages of the theater stretching back as far as the ancient Greek temples of theatrical artistry. Want to go on the stage - see Mr. Brochu and learn about the ins and outs of such a career. You may even get lucky and hear the story he told about Rex Harrison and my mother. . .she always called him Sexy Rexy but Brochu doesn't.
This is a unique evening and not to be missed. You'll want to know more and spend the rest of the day and evening trying to recall everything you learned. That is the task of great memoir and the positive proof is in this very amusing pudding of a one-man play of self-exposure.
Character Man plays at the Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Center on the St, Germain Stage, the second stage of Barrington Stage Company at 36 Linden Street, Pittsfield, MA through September 28. For information and tickets call the box office at 413-236-8888 or go on line at barringtonstageco.org.