December 19, 2018

Heart and Humor in Neil Simon’s ‘Broadway Bound’

From left: Josh Reiter and Matthew Nye in “Broadway Bound.” (Photo by Michael Lamont)

The West Coast Jewish Theatre honors the legacy of the late playwright Neil Simon with its latest production of “Broadway Bound.” 

Set in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, in 1949, the comedy focuses on brothers Eugene and Stanley Jerome, aspiring comedy writers who live at home with their unhappily married parents and staunch socialist grandpa. The third play in Simon’s “Eugene Trilogy” after “Brighton Beach Memoirs” and “Biloxi Blues,” it’s the most autobiographical of Simon’s works.

“It’s the one that was closest to his heart,” WCJT Artistic Director Howard Teichman, said after the opening-night performance. A self-described “huge fan” who has previously directed six of Simon’s plays including “Lost in Yonkers,” “The Sunshine Boys” and “The Prisoner of Second Avenue,” he’d already begun rehearsals before Simon’s death on Aug. 26. 

“It affected us deeply. We were so shocked, though we knew that he wasn’t well,” Teichman said. “We all made a commitment to honor his memory by working even harder in this. [He] is the greatest American playwright. Being a Jewish theater, he is our writer, the writer of our souls.”

“I think it gave us a responsibility to stick to the script and tell the story the way he intended — to honor him and his wonderful story,” Josh Reiter, who plays Eugene, said. 

“[Neil Simon] is the greatest American playwright. Being a Jewish theater, he is our writer, the writer of our souls.”
— Howard Teichman

For Reiter, whose credits include Simon’s “The Star-Spangled Girl,” this role is a dream come true. “It’s really fun to play Eugene and respond to all the craziness around me and break the fourth wall to speak to the audience,” he said. 

A native of a Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C., Reiter had been in Los Angeles only for three weeks when he was cast. He quickly developed a brotherly bond with Matthew Nye, who plays Stanley.

“The first time I saw him, I grabbed him and gave him a noogie,” Nye said. “I am that character. I’m a young Jewish comedy writer. I grew up in a one-bedroom apartment with my dad. We were basically ‘The Odd Couple,’ ” he said.

“The thing that resonated most with me was Eugene’s relationship with his mother. It reminds me of my relationship with my mother,” Reiter said, mentioning a touching scene that includes a lovely foxtrot. “It’s one of those times when
you get to connect and learn something new about someone you’ve known your whole life.”

Raised in a “Conservative-leaning-toward Reform” Jewish home, Reiter became less involved with Judaism in high school but while in college, found his way back to it and his Jewish identity. He’s now “looking at different synagogues. I’m on the hunt,” he said. “This theater and the people I’ve met here have given me a great start.”

Nye was raised in Hollywood, Fla., by parents who were “very proud Jews but even prouder hippies. We didn’t read the Torah much. And religion was never forced upon me. I started to learn about Judaism later,” he said.

Toronto native Teichman came to L.A. in 1979 to attend UCLA, and has been running the WCJT for 10 years. “There’s a big spectrum of what it means to be Jewish, from ultra-Orthodox to ultra-Reform, and as a theater, we try to bring the kind of works that will be relatable for all kinds of Jews and also people who are not Jewish,” he said. “We want to find that universal quality. That’s our mission.”

“Broadway Bound” runs through Oct. 28 at the Miles Memorial Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica. (323) 821-2449.