Neil Simon’s semi-autobiographical play, Broadway Bound
, opened on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theater on December 4, 1986. The two-act dramatic comedy centers on two brothers, good-humored lovable Eugene and business-like Stanley, as they struggle to break into comedy writing while their parents’ relationship falls apart. Broadway Boun
d is the third play in Simon’s Eugene Trilogy
following Brighton Beach Memoirs
in 1982 and Biloxi Blues
in 1984. The character Eugene, Simon’s alter ego, appears in each of the three plays. A prolific and successful American playwright and screenwriter, Simon has received many prestigious awards, including three Tony Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, a Golden Globe, and the Kennedy Center Honors. Newsday
calls Broadway Bound
“A lovely play; warm, perceptive and gently humorous.” In 1987, Broadway Bound
was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama and nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play as well as a Drama Desk Award for Best Play.Broadway Bound
opens in the Jerome household, located in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, New York. The home is in a working-class neighborhood just blocks from the ocean. It is wintertime in 1949. At the age of twenty-three, Eugene Morris Jerome is the youngest son of Kate and Jack. A stock boy at a music company, Eugene aspires to write comedy sketches for television. He is funny and loving and always on the lookout for humorous material. Eugene lives at home with his parents and older brother, Stanley. Five years Eugene’s senior, Stanley is a manager of a boy’s clothing department. Stanley is driven to turn their writing dreams into a successful career. Their elderly Jewish grandfather, Kate’s father, Ben, is a forgetful, testy socialist who loves Trotsky and abhors capitalism. Ben also lives with them.
Kate is busy preparing dinner—a pot roast—when Eugene arrives home. Eugene becomes the play’s narrator, as the only character to use asides to directly address the audience. Eugene studies his grandfather, finding him the “greatest teacher of comedy I ever met,” because “he has totally no sense of humor. None. But everything he says, I think is funny. Maybe because he doesn’t mean it to be.” Eugene’s jokes fall flat for everyone in his family except Stanley. Eugene notices that Jack isn’t home for dinner and wonders if he and Kate had another fight.
Stanley arrives home in a flurry of excitement: he has wrangled an audition with CBS for one of their sketches. He and Eugene must have it ready by 10 o’clock the next morning. Eugene remarks that they’ve never written a sketch in less than three weeks, and, in fact, they’ve only written one sketch, and they didn’t even finish that one. Stanley declares they will have to work all night, which means Eugene can’t go out with Josie, a girl he thinks is “the one.” The two forego dinner, settling for pot roast sandwiches while they write.
Kate’s sister, Blanche, arrives to talk to Ben about his estranged wife. Blanche tells Ben that his wife is sick and needs to move to Florida. Blanche urges Ben to move to Miami Beach with her, offering to help pay for the move. However, Ben disapproves of Blanche’s new, expensive lifestyle. Ben refuses to talk to his wife and refuses to move to Florida, saying, “Comfort doesn’t make me happy.” He tells Blanche that Jack is getting ready to leave Kate. Blanche is saddened at how hard it is to talk to each other.
Eugene, listening upstairs, comments, “There’s so much material in this house.” He and Stanley have trouble working on their sketch. Desperate, the brothers beg God for an idea. Meanwhile, Jack comes home to find Kate waiting up for him. Kate reveals that she knows Jack has been cheating on her. Jack admits he did see someone—an educated, widow lady who worked at a bank—then acknowledges he is still seeing her. Kate is hurt at his selfishness and tells him to stop.
Act 2 takes place one month later, on the “biggest night” of Eugene’s life. CBS said that their sketch wasn’t ready for TV, but they would feature it on an experimental comedy radio show. Stanley nervously warms up the radio, deflects Kate’s offers of quiet foods, and agonizes over where everybody is. Jack and Kate are barely speaking. Jack arrives just in time and everyone listens to the broadcast. The brother’s sketch features a fictional family, but it clearly resembles their own dysfunctional family—from pot roast to forgetful grandfather. Eugene comments that the sketch is a smash at CBS but “came up real short in the living room in Brighton Beach.”
Jack is furious. He feels the brothers have ridiculed him in front of their neighbors and spread gossip and filth about his affair. Stan tells him to go to hell, saying, “Don’t blame us for humiliating you when you’re the one that’s humiliating us.”
Eugene reminisces with Kate about her past. She cherishes the dining room table made by her grandfather and how it represents family. Kate talks about a magical night when she danced with the famous actor George Raft at the Primrose Ballroom. Eugene says, “There’s a whole movie in this story.”
Jack moves out without saying goodbye to Kate. He tells Ben, “I need to run. I need to get away from myself and everything I was.” Ben breaks the news to Kate. Stanley and Eugene’s careers take off at CBS. Jack gives Stanley letters for the brothers to read after he dies. Stanley and Eugene move out, and Eugene knows that no matter how often he goes back, the house will never be his home again. Ben joins his wife in Miami Beach. Jack remarries two years later. Eugene marries Josie. Eugene opens his letter from Jack but finds no apology, just an explanation of Jack’s reasoning for leaving. Kate remains in the old home, but Eugene doesn’t think she feels she sacrificed herself for the family, rather that she took a “quiet pleasure in whatever she gave.”