American Theater Group is a new performing arts company that will offer musicals and plays, a new musical reading series, and education programs at the new Hamilton Stage for the Performing Arts in Rahway, New Jersey. They begin their season with ZERO HOUR: a one-man tour-de-force about the life and times of the famed, talented and controversial actor Zero Mostel. The play is written by and stars Jim Brochu and Broadway World was able to catch up with the delightful (and hilarious) award winning writer/actor prior to starting his run at American Theater Group.
Welcome to Broadway World, Jim. Just looking at your website and all that you’ve done, I see your love of character actors. Can you tell us why you enjoy writing about them?
Jim Brochu: I love them because I’m one of them. It’s like belonging to a club. I was so lucky to have come along at the right time and the right place and to have been able to touch them and know them and learn from them and be changed by them. I met Zero Mostel though my mentor David Burns who was one of the great character men of all time. He was so good that he won Best Supporting Actor in a Musical and he didn’t sing a note. Davy brought me into a world of Lou Jacobi, Jack Albertson, Jack Gilford, Hans Conreid…some of the great character men of all time - all of who took time to help a young guy who wanted to follow in their footsteps. So, I feel like a link in the chain and love to write about them so the next set of character guys to come along will know them.
You had a stellar off-Broadway run with ZERO HOUR which garnered you a Drama Desk and Helen Hayes award. Please tell the readers a little about this play for which you have written and star in.
“You forget about the Ovation Award for Best Play!” he said humbly.
You got me! I knew I was missing something.
No serious, whatever anyone says, awards are important to an artist. They’re important to me. Our egos are mostly fragile and when a large volume of your peers tell you they like your work and hand you a beautiful remembrance of it to keep forever is a transformative moment. Anyhoo, it took 30 years for ZERO HOUR go from idea to the stage. A critic, Jerry Tallmer, said I should play Zero back in 1970. When I sat down to write the play in 2005, it just about wrote itself. After 35 years, it was all there – this larger-than-life life – ready to put on the stage character that also happened to be a real person. There was a protagonist (Zero) vesus the antagonist (Zero) and will the shy serene artist ever calm the angry, attention-seeking loudmouth. The play is framed as his last interview before starting rehearsals for his last play, THE MERCHANT. He reveals himself as a painter who does comedy to buy his art supplies but explodes as he is forced to relive the pain of being blacklisted. But Zero was a funny man despite everything so the play has plenty of laughs. And with all the awards, the greatest satisfaction came when Zero’s son, Josh Mostel hugged me after the show and said, “You got him!”
What a wonderful connection to his family. How did you meet the producers at American Theater Group to bring this show to New Jersey?
I met Jim Vagias first at a friend’s house in Delaware. Our mutual friend, Rich Bloch, who was one of the original producers of ZERO HOUR in New York, invited us to his beach house for a weekend. Then, last June, I did a reading at the new theatre – which is absolutely perfect for actor and audience, a really great space – and that’s when I met Joe.
What was it about Mostel that made you want to write the show?