Nothing held back in 'Zero Hour' at The Lyric Theatre

Friday, February 15, 2013

By Isadora Rangel
Posted February 15, 2013 at 4 a.m.

For six years, New York City-based actor Jim Brochu has played comedian Zero Mostel, showing how the late comedian's sense of humor helped him deal with tough moments in his life.

Those moments include the adversities Mostel faced when he was blacklisted during the McCarthy era and his highly publicized hearing before the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s.

Brochu's portrayal of the larger-than-life actor, a one-man play titled "Zero Hour," chronicles Mostel's struggles and his career. But the actor also is known for his role in the original stage production of "Fiddler on the Roof" and "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum."

"Zero Hour," which won New York City's Drama Desk Award for outstanding one-person show in 2010, opens at The Lyric Theatre on Feb. 15. The touring production of "Fiddler" also is coming to the Stuart venue, opening Feb. 26.

The first play chronicles a phone interview with an unseen New York Times reporter before Zero Mostel's death in 1977. The comedian discusses, among other things, his indignation at the Activities Committee hearings, all permeated with his ability to create laughter out of the delicate situation.

Brochu said he always wanted to write a play about the actor. His interest was deepened when he researched the adversities Mostel faced in his life — beyond being blacklisted. That included a harsh reaction by his Jewish parents over his marriage to a Catholic woman and almost losing his leg after he was hit by a bus in New York City in 1960.

"There has always been a part of Mostel in me," he said. "He was a very funny man. It's a very positive message that with a little humor you can overcome anything."

Brochu has had an admiration for Mostel since first meeting the comedian in 1962.

At 17, attending a military high school, Brochu went to visit a friend and Mostel's co-star in the backstage of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." Brochu wore his school uniform.

"Mostel was still soaking wet from the performance. He was a force of nature," Brochu said. "He looked at me and asked, 'Who are you? General Nuisance?' "

Brochu, an aspiring actor, began visiting the comedian after performances.

Around the same time, Brochu found a job selling orange drinks at the St. James Theatre during intermissions of "Hello, Dolly!" He earned $18 per week and said that is how he got his initial training in theater.

"I saw 'Hello, Dolly!' 100 times," he said. "I was working on Broadway and got in through the stage door."

Brochu went on to study drama at Carnegie-Mellon University. His Broadway debut was a revival of "The Taming of the Shrew."

He saw Mostel for the last time on the street in Manhattan. Brochu asked the comedian for an autographed photo. He replied, "You are not worthy," and walked away.

But Mostel did accept Brochu's invitation to see him in an off-Broadway show. After the performance, Brochu found an envelope on his dressing table. Inside was a photo of Mostel signed, "To Jimmy, with my admiration."

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