Last year, Interplayers Theatre began its 33rd season with a production of the Neil Simon classic “Brighton Beach Memoirs.” Directed by Michael Weaver, the wistful period comedy centered on the eccentricities of the Jeromes, a tight-knit Jewish family scraping by in Depression-era Brooklyn.
This weekend, Weaver returns, along with two members of his original cast (Nich Witham as Eugene and Samantha Camp as Kate), to the Jerome household with “Broadway Bound,” the third entry in Simon’s well-regarded trilogy. (They’ve skipped over the middle installment, “Biloxi Blues.”)
“ ‘Brighton Beach Memoirs’ is about potential and the future and the exciting things ahead,” Weaver said. “This play is more about missed opportunities, and a little bit about regrets. It’s an interesting bookend.”
Nominated for the Pulitzer Prize when it premiered in 1986, “Broadway Bound” is set a decade after “Brighton Beach,” and brothers Eugene and Stanley Jerome are starting their career writing gags for radio. (In real life, Simon and his brother Danny broke into radio before landing a TV writing gig on Sid Caesar’s groundbreaking “Your Show of Shows.”)
Just as their careers are beginning to take off, Eugene and Stanley’s parents start breaking apart, and they discover their father has been having an affair. Following the “write what you know” axiom perhaps a little too closely, Eugene and Stanley work elements of their family members and their current home situation into their comic material. This rubs their father the wrong way when he notices striking similarities between himself and a character on his sons’ radio program.
“The show they end up writing is a little too close to what the family really is, so that’s where the comedy comes from,” Weaver said. “And the drama, too.”
The so-called “Eugene Trilogy” is famously autobiographical, but there’s a meta, self-referential element to “Broadway Bound” that makes it a little deeper than its two predecessors. The structure of the show is a bit twistier than you might expect: After all, Simon has created characters based on his own family and examines how they react to being written about (sometimes unflatteringly so).
“There are no apologies made,” Weaver said of Simon’s approach. “There is some guilt taken on Neil Simon’s part, but he doesn’t make apologies. He’s just saying, ‘This is what happened,’ and it’s really glorious the way he handled it.”
Simon’s work often pingpongs between caustic cynicism and broad slapstick comedy, and Weaver says that “Broadway Bound” is one of his sweeter plays, despite the fact that it flirts with some somber material.
“This one might be a little more sentimental (than ‘Brighton Beach’),” Weaver said. “But other than that, the tone is very much the same. … The one-liners are just flying left and right, which is what you’d expect from a Neil Simon play, but there are some really serious, tender moments and dramatic, life-changing moments for these characters.”
“Broadway Bound” is as much about letting go as it is about the murky, sometimes grim possibilities of the future. Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that this is Weaver’s last production with Interplayers; he’ll be resigning as the theater’s associate artistic director following the show’s premiere.
“There’s not a wasted word in the script,” Weaver said. “It’s amazing because it’s hilariously funny and deeply, deeply moving. That’s so rare in the theater to find a play that’s written that well. It’s a beautiful play, and I’m excited to see what people think when they get it in front of them.”