The definition of a tour de force is a feat of strength. Jim Brochu, the author and director of the one-man show "Zero Hour," now playing at Barrington Stage Companyís Stage 2 in Pittsfield, completes the picture of such an action by also playing the only role in the ninety minute show, the actor Zero Mostel. Mostel was a force of nature and being him, with his rages and his over-the-top personality, was indeed a tour de force. Playing him is a task of equal courage and strength.
Zero Hour is an exhausting experience. From the first moment the character, the man, is an actor of great gusto and incredible energy. This is not a young man in the play but a man whose experiences and the memories of those experiences energize and exhaust him. He is a man who lives on the edge of his emotions. He carries lasting grudges, hates with an eternal passion, mourns his personal losses with an egotistís conceit and indulges himself in personal joys with an elaborate sense of what the party is truly about. When he slowly reveals his own heart and its ability to break he becomes a being not merely human but superhuman.
All of this happens in this play. Moderation in any form never enters the scene. Watching Brochu be Mostel is a bit like taking that forbidden voyage into the lair of the beast just to discover that the beast is exactly the beast you thought youíd find but with a single difference: this beast is much worse than you expected.
I confess to coming away from this production knowing much more about the character than I ever thought Iíd know. In some small way I resent having so much information now. I began, in my real life, adoring and respecting the actor Mostel, then gradually became less entranced as stories about his bad behavior backstage and on-stage as well became better known through the press stories about him. Buy the time he reached the advanced stage of his career when Tevya was his other name and "Fiddler on the Roof" his other home I had determined not to waste any of my precious time on him or his work.
This play answers questions I never bothered to answer. It is clear to me now why certain things took place and why no one seemed to care about them one way or the other. Living legends are hard to handle and that was what and who Zero Mostel had become. Brochuís play, and his sensitive playing of insensitivity, give me missing pieces in the puzzle and I can sit back and regret not asking these questions myself. On this stage in Pittsfield the actor and man are fusing and defusing and fusing again and lighting up from the inside of the character the traits that made him everything he was.
The play is moving. Moments take you near to tears and there were actual out-loud gasps as family betrayals became evident. Pain, suffering, love and the disgust it brings for the beloved, are joined at the hip with professional concerns and personal revelations. Philip Loeb and his close friendship with Zero are the subject of more than one personal drama here. Jerome Robbins is placed into context. There are even deep breaths to take as emotions overwhelm hysteria, when animal sounds are replaced by the deep sob of remorse.
Brochu does a remarkable job of bringing to life a man he knew and admired. He does such a good job of it that our own admiration goes through the cycle of life touching on fear, disgust, adoration, and a large number of other emotional reactions to what we see and hear of Mostel. This isnít the ordinary one-man biographical show. This is tour-de-force - an act of incredible strength.
Zero Hour plays at Barrington Stage Companyís Stage 2 at 36 Linden Street, Pittsfield, MA through June 5. Ticket prices range form $15 to $39. For availability, information or tickets call the box office at 413-236-8888.