Volume 79, Number 22 | November 04 - 10, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

THEATER review

Sheridan Square to Shylock

Solo show recalls Zero Mostel as ‘funny, tragic, furiously angry man’

By Jerry Tallmer

A funny thing happened at the Alvin Theatre, one night in 1962. A delicate elephant of a man named Zero Mostel — playing a freedom-minded Roman slave named Pseudolus — turned himself momentarily into an erotic Greek frieze, and a critic named Tallmer fell out of his aisle seat, laughing hysterically. BUMP! on the floor, I kid you not.

Though Zero left us, with tragic abruptness,15 years after that — 32 years ago now — one has high hopes of seeing and hearing him again; not just Pseudolus but the entirety of the man, when Jim Brochu’s raved-about one-man “Zero Hour” arrives here from Washington on November 22. Previews start November 14 for a run through January 31 — at the Theatre at St. Clement’s on West 46th Street.

Zero Mostel was a funny man indeed, and a tragic man, and a furiously angry man. The person he most despised was Jerome Robbins — namer of names, including that of suicided blacklisted actor Philip Loeb — and yet it was brilliant choreographer/director Robbins with whom Mostel grimly worked when (“Funny Thing,” “Fiddler”) he had to.

The therapeutic, cleansing grist of this show is its gloves-off revisit to that era of the hyena. Nowhere in it does Samuel Joel Mostel forget his loyalty to Ivan Black, the Harvard-educated blacklisted press agent who dubbed him Zero.

Brochu reenacts the whole Mostel story; from its beginnings at Café Society (2 Sheridan Square) — where I myself first laid eyes on Zero — to his death on the road as Shylock. His one and only love was wife Kate. “What a pair,” Zero exclaims. “A dysfunctional Catholic Rockette from Philadelphia and a dysfunctional Jewish painter from New York.” Indeed, Mostel always considered himself a painter first, everything else second. And his canvas was…broad.

“Zero Hour” plays November 22 through January 31 (previews begin November 14); at Theatre at St. Clement’s (423 West 46th Street, between 9th and 10th Avenues). For tickets, call 212-239-6200.

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