There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Jim Brochu is Zero Mostel: the shrugging, the mugging, the right hand aloft to screw in that invisible light bulb, the eyes bugging as if to say “What, that’s the best laugh you’ve got?” The two-tone beard, the thinning hair scraped back to front, the screwed-up face, the waggling jowls—and those cadences, pinched and outraged, punchy and perfectly pitched. As a comic, Mostel had no peer, and as a mimic, Brochu does his hero proud: When it’s going for the funny bone, Zero Hour is a laff riot, down to the “I’m a little teapot” imitation excavated from Mostel’s early days in stand-up.
And that’s terrific, because most of us know Mostel merely as the guy to whom funny things happened in A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum, or as the guy who celebrated “Tradition” above all in Fiddler on the Roof. (Or—much to the actor’s chagrin, Brochu insists—as the sweaty swindler of a Broadway hack romancing wealthy widows in The Producers.) Brochu wants you to know Mostel the Brooklyn boy, Mostel the Hollywood blacklist survivor, and Mostel the man who nearly lost his leg in a 1960 bus crash—and masked the pain night after night onstage.
The blacklist outrage is where Brochu focuses his energy and his character’s famously volcanic ire, but that last gruesome story makes for one of Zero Hour’s better set pieces—and make no mistake, the evening is a series of set pieces, stories strung like pearls on the thin conceit of an interview with an invisible journalist. (He’s sitting, apparently, in the audience’s lap, which explains why Brochu’s Zero keeps talking directly to us.)
Hackneyed, that device? Yes. Predictable, the evening’s rhythms? More than once. But Zero Hour is a loving tribute nonetheless—and a deserved one. And it’s an impressive exhibition of craft besides: Brochu the performer knows how to make a moment pop, and more than one moment does so here.