BWW Reviews: Neil Simon's CHAPTER TWO Is a Tarnished Gem at Bucks County Playhouse
Marsha Mason could be expected to know a thing or two about Neil Simon's CHAPTER TWO - after all, she starred in it on screen, and won an Academy Award nomination for the effort. She could also be expected to know a thing or two about it from a personal end, being the playwright's second wife who had the gumption to take him on. Simon wrote it as a salute to her. It's about her. She starred in it. And now that she's moved back to the right coast, she's directing it, at Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope.
Mason's direction is certainly better than the average, but of course she's traveling familiar territory. The pacing's tight, and the technical details are well-handled; the multi-level set allows us to see into both the heroine's, Jenny Malone's (Anastasia Griffith) apartment and the nebbish-hero's, George Schneider's (Joey Slotnick) apartment at once, and both are nicely furnished in ways that suit the characters.
If only all the characters were more loveable. They were lovable to Simon, and quite likely to Mason, but these two and their sidekicks, Jenny's best friend Faye (Nadia Bowers) and George's brother Leo (Michael Nathanson) are mired in their angst a bit too much to reach out to an audience in this production. The chemistry's a bit iffy, too - no, Faye and Leo aren't supposed to get it right, they're supposed to be awkward, but they're a little too awkward. And Jenny and George are at their best on the telephone, even without telephone sex. Theirs is supposed to be a problematic relationship, but when Jenny gives a passionate declaration of her determination to keep their relationship together, it's hard to feel that there ever was a together when they weren't on the telephone.
There are efforts in the production to update the 1976 play, but when the characters clearly own current iPhones, the constant use of land lines seems a bit odd. George might be cell-phone-phobic, as he certainly has enough other neuroses, but that everyone is calling Jenny's hard-wired phone seems a bit odd with cell phones in the picture, although that there's a land line in use at the apartment is relevant to a few plot moments. As with much of Simon's work, there's a slight feeling of datedness, not of period setting, that's a bit hard to get past, but it's less noticeable when the production is trying less to be thoroughly contemporary.
Still, it's an enjoyable production, despite the datedness, and as with Simon's best, the one-liners are classics: How long will Jenny be in Cleveland? "A couple of days, a couple of weeks." "In Cleveland, a couple of days IS a couple of weeks." Too fond of Cleveland to like that one? Too predictable? How about "Blind dates are the third leading cause of skin rash." Simon's always at his best and his wittiest when peering into the complexity and dysfunctionality of relationships, which is the entire theme of CHAPTER TWO.
If Griffith and Slotnick look familiar, it's most likely because Griffith was on NBC's "Trauma" and on USA's "Royal Pains" as well as on BBC's "Copper." Slotnick was a series regular on "Boston Public" and was also on "Nip/Tuck."
There's no lack of talent among the cast, or in the director, nor is there in the playwright. It may be that this is a comedy that's simply past its prime, like the soap operas in which Jenny and Faye work - are there still any network soap operas, or have they entirely been taken over by weekday afternoon talk shows? The style of dialogue - or the monologues directed at the other characters - isn't currently in vogue, nor is the comedy of Jewish neuroses. But it's still a gem, even if it's slightly tarnished now, and even if it's slightly imperfect to modern theatre tastes.
At Bucks County Playhouse through June 15; visit www.bcptheater.org or call 215-862-2121 for tickets and information.