Play Review — "Forty-five Seconds from Broadway" doesn't have a plot, and maybe it doesn't need one. It's as if playwright Neil Simon thought up a bunch of subplots without coming up with a main one but didn't let that stop him. The glue that holds the lighthearted, episodic comedy together is Simon's affection for his characters.
The setting (a piece of burnished realism from designer Don Zastoupil) is Bernie's and Zelda's restaurant on the edge of New York City's theater district. The play's title refers to the location, which Simon based on the diner at Manhattan's Edison Hotel, a comfortable-as-an-old-pair-of-slippers kind of place where theater types come to eat cheap borscht and drink tea and talk about projects real and hoped-for.
Most visible of the noshers is Mickey Fox (David King-Gabriel in Camelot Theater's new production of the 2001 play), who is so much like a certain rapid-fire Jewish comedian that you keep wanting to call him Jackie. Mickey is always on. While Simon didn't draw him with a lot of depth, King-Gabriel portrays him as vain, funny, hammy, driven and likable.
Simon has surrounded Mickey with a colorful bunch of characters, including an English producer who wants him for a play, a young playwright from South Africa, a dotty old lady and her clammed-up husband, a Broadway actress, a dewy-eyed wannabe from Ohio.
Each of these thinly sketched characters wants something. And results may vary. But their situations give Simon plenty of material for his zingy one-liners. Eyeing the preposterous fur (the gleeful creation of costume designer Donna Boehm) worn by aged society dame Rayleen Browning (Brandy Carson), Mickey cracks, "With one coat she cleared out the Bronx Zoo."
Arleen (Linda Otto), speaking of a play she's just seen with her frequent theater-going pal, Cindy (Pam Ward), says, "I enjoyed it, but I didn't like it."
Arleen and Cindy don't have anything to do with the other characters' situations. They are Simon's take on theater junkies and the ways he imagines them reacting to what they see.
Director Paul Jones moves it along at a smart clip, although there were a few opening-night hiccups. King-Gabriel was a good choice for Mickey, endowing the character with the bang-bang rhythms of the New York streets.
Jade Chavis Watt (name corrected from earlier version), as sassy Broadway pro Bessie, steals one big scene before Simon consigns her to her fate, which will not be revealed here.
Carson and Grant Shepard, as her long-suffering husband, Charles, make the most of a couple of juicy roles, taking over each time they're on. Rayleen wants an impossibly complicated, double-brewed cup of tea served in fine china on white linen — in a diner.
Carson has the chops to get a big laugh out of the line, "I — don't — like — honey." In another funny bit, she accuses her taciturn husband of "thinking in French."
But the record for laughs-per-line goes to Shepard, who repeatedly gets big laughs while saying absolutely nothing. Pretty soon the audience is laughing whenever the Brownings enter, before they've even said anything.
Mickey is out for yuks — he seems to have no other speed — but he responds to the other characters' problem with decency and compassion, trying to help Bernie get out of a business deal that has him in trouble with Zelda, and extending a hand to Soloman Mantutu (a charming Steven Dominguez), who needs help with his first play.
The entrance of Mickey's brother Harry (Rob Hirshboeck) tacks the play into more serious waters, and once again Mickey is faced with choices. Hirshboeck proves once again there are no small roles.
An event involving the Brownings in the second act temporarily breaks the play's sunny mood with such vehemence that it is something of a mystery.
"45 Seconds" was not one of Simon's more successful plays, having only a short run on Broadway. If it doesn't look too deeply into its characters, it finds gentle humor in their predicaments.
Think of it as a warm postcard to a vanishing show business milieu. Jones' concept is as true to Simon's vision as you could want, and he's assembled a talented cast to deliver the sunshine.
Bill Varble writes about arts and entertainment for the Mail Tribune. He can be reached at email@example.com.