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Adding Up to "Zero"

Date: Dec 16, 2009


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Zero Mostel was a man of the theatre, so he may have realized his life was like a play.  Yes, he originated iconic roles in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Fiddler on the Roof, but he also got blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Yes, he got signed to a lucrative contract for the 1960 play The Good Soup, but on his way home from rehearsal, he got hit by a bus. Throw in an oracle, and you've practically got a Greek tragedy.

Of course, even if Mostel didn't appreciate the drama, Jim Brochu did. In his solo show Zero Hour, now at the Theatre at St. Clement's, he plays Mostel during the last weeks of his life, reflecting on the meaning of his family, his politics, and his career.

And in another dramatic twist, the man who's portraying Mostel was also his friend in real life. In 1962, when Brochu was in high school, he happened to meet Mostel backstage after a performance of Forum, and they stayed in touch for decades.

That relationship gave Brochu a personal connection to Mostel's story. He says, "Josh Mostel asked me, 'Why this play?' And I said, 'Because your father was not only interesting-he overcame obstacles.' When I was being taught drama, it was about overcoming obstacles, the protagonist and the antagonist, and Zero certainly had a lot of antagonists in his life. He said, 'I've been excluded as a man. I've been excluded as an entertainer. I've been excluded as a Jew.' He was disowned by his parents, there was the blacklist, and just when then things are going great, he gets hit by a bus. That's a pretty dramatic life."

"But he managed to attack it with such a sense of humor and craziness," Brochu adds. "That's what made him so fascinating." And clearly, that's what made him so appealing to a playwright and actor looking for a meaty project.

Mark Blankenship is TDF's online content editor