the butterfly’s unrest
Mostel: If I appeared there, what if I did an imitation of a butterfly at rest? There is no crime in making anybody laugh. I don't care if you laugh at me.
Congressman Jackson: If your interpretation of a butterfly at rest brought any money into the coffers of the Communist Party, you contributed directly to the propaganda effort of the Communist Party.
Mostel: Suppose I had the urge to do the butterfly at rest somewhere?
Congressman Doyle: Yes, but please, when you have the urge, don't have such an urge to put the butterfly at rest by putting some money in the Communist Party coffers as a result of that urge to put a butterfly at rest.
Testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), October 14, 1955, regarding Mostel's appearance at a Communist Party fundraiser.
The current production of Jim Brochu’s one man tour de force based on the life of Zero Mostel is a remarkable evening of theatre that manages to mix disturbing historical fact with bits of charming and intimate theatre history, creating a ninety minute tour de force that leaves the audience gasping for more. Directed with a firm hand for powerful nuance and characterization by actor/director Pipe Laurie, the show flies by with a compelling breakneck pace. Brochu’s text is peppered with anecdotes ranging from Mostel’s intense dislike for Jerome Robbins due to sharp political differences, to traumatic family dysfunction, life altering physical injuries, and precious moving stories about a time in America, not so different from the present, when fear around identity and personal politics was palpable on a daily basis.
Brochu’s frequently poetic language is handled with moments of wild and layered gesticulation that, in the hands of a lesser performer, could be viewed as insincere histrionics. This seasoned actor, however, and recipient of many prestigious acting awards, is able to take his own writing and layer it with so much integrity, passion, and physical energy that it all comes across as the passionate and fascinating ramblings of a man on the edge of art and politics struggling to survive in a world gone stark raving mad.
Mostels’ career was derailed during the nineteen fifties by the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee. He was able to rise from the ashes by 1960 and create some of his most memorable roles such as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof and Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum. Brochu’s script includes delightful moments of nostalgia and true passion for the art of the theatre as he carefully weaves anecdotes throughout, giving the play a sense of how art and life commingle relentlessly over the course of a single career. Ultimately a kind of love/hate relationship between Mostel and his creative path emerges, providing audiences with a deeply personal yet hauntingly universal testament to the intermingling, frequently conflicted power of art and politics.
Zero Hour runs at
the Bathurst Street Theatre
until March 11th