With more than 60 plays and screen plays as well as countless TV shows to his name, Neil Simon is the most prolific playwright of America’s best. What Noel Coward is to England, Neil Simon is to America.
Simon came through the ranks working on the recently departed Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows.” He penned the weekly script along side of some other little known writers – Woody Allen, Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks, to name a few.
Most good writers know that in order to express one’s self, the writer must draw on their own experiences.
“Chapter Two,” Simon’s semi-autobiographical dramatic comedy, is the current production at Tacoma Little Theatre. This play doesn’t draw on the author’s experiences; it lays them out for the audience on the proverbial silver platter, complete with peals of laughter and a gravy boat of tears.
The play follows writer George Schneider’s return to the real world after the loss of his beloved wife. Schneider, coaxed by his brother Leo, reluctantly enters into the dating game where he almost too quickly falls for Jennie Malone, a TV soap opera actor, who, with the help of her friend Faye, is recovering from a recent divorce from her sports figure husband of eight years.
Unfortunately for George, he is immediately quite smitten by Jennie and fraught with guilt because he feels he is betraying his deceased wife. Ups and downs of their relationship bring the audience to laughter and tears
This play seems to be an on-going project with director Alyson Soma. She states that she and the cast have performed it several times during the past years; this time, the part of Faye has a new actor; however the rest of the cast reprise their roles, which they have honed to a cutting edge.
The action takes place in two different New York apartments a few miles apart. Set Designers Curt Hetherington and Bill Huls have condensed the apartments into one – two different styles, two different front doors, two different personalities – sharing only the couch center stage; the design is very pleasant and works quite well,
Hetherington, a member of the continuing experience, also designed the lights and is Stage Manager.
Soma’s cast wear their roles like comfortable shoes, molded to their feet without a pinch nor misstep.
This is true even of the “newcomer” to the cast, Holly Rose, who plays Faye Medwick, the friend of our hero’s new lady. Rose plays her as an over-anxious friend who wants her pal to venture into a new romance as soon as possible – perhaps she has an ulterior motive – which becomes almost painfully apparent in the second act; Rose nicely under-plays the part.
Brynne Garman, who in previous venues, played the part of Faye, now holds court as Jennie Malone, the character based on actress Marsha Mason, the playwright’s second wife. Garman is so charming in the role, it is easy to understand how our hero would fall in love all over again when meeting her. Garman plays Jennie as a disillusioned woman ready to give up on men until she receives a phone call from the ingenuous George. From her body language alone, the audience can see the actor’s change in her attitude toward the new man in her life.
Kent Phillips is Leo Schneider, our hero’s pushy younger brother who will do anything to make George happy, including finding the new Miss Right. Phillips is excellent in the role. He is natural and earthy with clear feelings of frustration and love for his brother. Phillips is a whirlwind twirling on and off stage with a hidden surprise on each entrance.
Robert Alan Barnett plays the role of George Schneider. Barnett is perfect in the part. He is completely lethargic upon his entrance; exudes nervous energy when first speaking with Jennie on the phone; and is filled with anguish when he realizes he is falling in love with someone who is not his late wife. Just looking at the actor, the audience can hear his unspoken inner words. It is a joy to watch Barnett’s transformation from a disinterested phone conversation to noncommittal casual meeting to uncertainty to deep love.
“Chapter Two” continues at Tacoma Little Theatre at 210 North I Street through March 30 at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays with 2 p.m. matinees Sundays.
For more information or to make reservations call the theatre at (253) 272-2281 or go online to www.tacomalittletheatre.com.
Don’t miss this excellent production of a Neil Simon classic. You may come away from the theatre wondering if “Chapter Two” is a comedy or a drama. The reality is it is not a comedy; it is not a drama. “Chapter Two” is Life.