The story revolves around the problems of a middle-aged couple living on Second Avenue on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Mel Edison (Dan Kelley) has just lost his job of many years, and struggles to cope with being unemployed and middle-aged. His plight is exacerbated as he and his wife Edna (Derelle Bunn) must deal with building repairs, noisy neighbors, a heat wave, a garbage strike, and their apartment being burglarized. Mel has a complete nervous breakdown, suspecting America at large of a vague conspiracy against the middle-class. His loving wife eventually persuades him to seek therapy, and his brother Harry (Bob Levitt) and widowed sisters Pearl (Phyllis Spear), Jessie (Gail Byer), and Pauline (Margie Elias Eisenberg) converge on the scene to lend their opinions and support.
At the time this admittedly dark comedy was written, the improbability of all that befalls the Edisons is what made it comical. It was a time when the corporate world was strong and companies did not just go out of business overnight. Today the tale is one told all over the United States. An upside-down housing market, high unemployment, companies cutting benefits, retirement funds disappearing, Occupy Wall Street, and a recession that is not yet over make The Prisoner of Second Avenue a far darker comedy than originally intended.
As the downtrodden Mel, Dan Kelley wrings out every possible ounce of comedy in his performance. His rubber-faced antics, character quirks, and fast-paced responses help lighten the play considerably. Hats off to him for taking not one, but two buckets of water poured over his head during the show and having no chance to dry off for a good ten minutes either time. Bob Levitt as Mel's brother Harry has a nice moment in the second act when he scrapes off a bit of his crusty nature to reveal his feelings about Mel for probably the first time in his life. Phyllis Spear, Gail Byer and Margie Elias Eisenberg are well cast as the three sisters. They titter like birds sitting on a fence as they speak over one another with the comfortable familiarity born of long acquaintance.
Derelle Bunn as Edna conveys a warmth and affection for Mel amidst all he concern for his mental health. Both actors thankfully find the bittersweet humor of the play in the last scene. It is Neil Simon's version of survival by merely laughing through it all.
Playwright Neil Simon received Tony Awards for Biloxi Blues and Lost in Yonkers, and has received a total of fifteen Tony Award nominations for his work in shows such as Little Me, The Odd Couple, Sweet Charity, Plaza Suite, Last of the Red Hot Lovers, The Sunshine Boys, They're Playing Our Song and Broadway Bound. Neil Simon writes with an honesty and humanity that is timeless, and justifiably remains one of America's most successful and prolific playwrights. His plays are all to some extent a reflection of the his own life, often paying homage to his beloved New York City.
The Prisoner of Second Avenue will be appearing at The Stage Door Theatre through January 29, 2012. The theater is located at 8036 W. Sample Rd. in Coral Springs, Florida. The Stage Door Theatre is a not-for-profit professional theatre company hiring local and non-local nonunion actors and actresses. Their two stages in Coral Springs, and their location in Miami Beach, the Byron Carlyle Theatre, are open year round. The Byron Carlyle Theatre, 500 71st Street, Miami Beach, Florida. For tickets and information on their season, you may contact them by phone at 954-344-7765 or online at www.stagedoortheatre.com.