Also see John's review of Hamlet
Set in New York City, the plot of Chapter Two revolves around George Schneider (Wayne LeGette), a recently widowed writer, and recently divorced soap opera actress Jennie Malone (Mia Matthews). Though relieved by her emancipation, Jennie is uncertain she is yet ready to start dating after her unhappy marriage to a football player has dissolved after six years. Though prodded into dating by his press agent brother Leo (Kenneth Kay), a somewhat moody George is merely attempting to heal from the painful loss of the woman he loved. When George and Jennie are introduced to each other by Leo, and Jennie's best friend and fellow actress Faye (Kim Cozort), they find an unexpected instant connection that causes them to cast aside their fears of dating. After a whirlwind romance leads to a hasty wedding, their new marriage is threatened by George's memories of his first wife.
The original Broadway production of Chapter Two opened at the Imperial Theatre on December 4, 1977, and transferred to the Eugene O'Neill Theatre in January 1979, where it closed on December 8, 1979, after 857 performances. That production received four Tony Award nominations, with Ann Wedgeworth winning for Best Featured Actress in a Play. Simon adapted the play for a 1979 film starring James Caan and Simon's wife Marsha Mason, on whom the character of Jennie was based.
Neil Simon is at his best here. There is nothing in the script that is dated by time. All of the conversations between George and Jennie are just as vital, urgent, funny and hurtful now as when they were written. The witty repartee and comedic rhythm of Simon is all there. Creative and scenic design by Michael McClain features two very different apartments split right down the middle of the stage. Jennie's apartment features more contemporary furniture, with yellow and orange accents and geometric patterns. George's apartment is more stately, with dark wood, arched columns and leather bound rows of books. Cleverly, the bench that falls squarely on the dividing line is split in the middle as well, each side upholstered with a fabric matching the apartment it faces. Snippets of songs from the '70s are played during scene transitions that are perfectly chosen to reflect the beats of the play.
Direction by Michael Leeds wisely has the actors playing the comedic parts of the show realistically rather than too broadly, and they handle numerous props and changing of clothes all without breaking their stride and more importantly the pacing of the play. There is a charm to Jennie as played by Mia Matthews that makes her very likable without being overly sweet. She is also a master of talking on the phone while multi-tasking with her props without making it looked planned. Her only flaw is that she needs to look up and out, playing the scene past the second row of the audience. Wayne LeGette manages to convey the anguish of his character without making him pitiable. There is warmth that shines through as George takes his first steps with Jennie. Together LeGette and Matthews sail smoothly through all there dialogue and create a believable budding relationship. Surprisingly, LeGette's best moments are his dark ones in the second act, when George's own inner conflict makes him lash out cruelly at Jennie. There is a calm, even frankness to his delivery that is more hurtful than yelling could ever be.
While Kenneth Kay is funny as Leo, there is no doubt that Kim Cozort is near genius as the quirky and neurotic Faye. She has the character nailed from the top of the show, finding watchable bits throughout her performance. She (with lipstick smeared cheek) and Kay, locked in a passionate embrace that dissolves unto the floor due to aged backs, is a memorable image borne of the delightful energy and connection they share. From start to finish this smashing production of Chapter Two is simply Neil Simon exactly as he was meant to be done.
This production of Chapter Two will be appearing at the Plaza Theatre through February 10, 2013. The Plaza Theatre is located at 262 S. Ocean Blvd in the Plaza Del Mar in Manalapan. The Plaza Theatre, a not-for-profit 250-seat theatre, is home to a variety of light-hearted shows, with an occasional gripping drama. For more information, please call 561-588-1820 or visit www.theplazatheatre.net.
*Indicates member of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States
+Indicates member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society