BWW Interview: Paul Dorset of CHAPTER TWO at St. Dunstan's Theatre Hopes It Will Reaffirm Audiences Optimism for Love & Happiness!
Love always deserves another chapter. Or at least that is the theme of Neil Simon's 1978 Tony Award winning play, Chapter Two, that St. Dunstan's Theatre Guild of Cranbrook is opening up this week with in Bloomfield Hills. George is deeply is saddened by the death of his wife of 12 years and urged by his brother, Leo, to start dating again. After Leo arranges some disastrous blind dates, George meets Jennie and they fall in love and marry - after two weeks of dating! The romantic comedy explores what it means to truly love someone and if you can find a soul mate more than one life your life. BroadwayWorld Detroit had a chance to speak with Paul Dorset, the director of Chapter Two, on this lesser known Neil Simon play, why it is special, and how it can bring joy to audiences - just like it brought joy to Paul when he first encountered it. Plus, if the comedy in this interview is any inkling of the amusement we can expect from Paul's cast in Chapter Two, we know we are in for lots of laughter in the show!
Can you give our readers a brief background of yourself and then your theatre career as an introduction?
Paul Dorset: Theatre has been a massive part of my life ever since the fifth grade. I did theatre through high school where I met my future wife, and we've been doing shows at St. Dunstan's ever since moving back to the Metro Detroit area after college. I've done a little of everything at St. D's, from being onstage in multiple productions, to lighting design, stage managing, serving as Props Master, and one term as the President of the Guild in 2012-13.
How would you describe Chapter Two in your own words?
I'd say Chapter Two is one of Neil Simon's less heralded shows, but it's easily one of my favorites. It's just such a charming show about love, loss, and healing. It blends the patented Neil Simon humor and charm with a heavier topic of grief. This show is 40 years old and I feel like the subjects it touches on are as true today as they were in 1978.
What was your introduction to Chapter Two?
A friend of mine was in a production at Farmington Players about 11 years ago. My wife and I knew nothing about the show and we just fell in love with it. It was funny; it was poignant. It was honestly one of the first shows that I thought, "I'd love to direct that show some day."
What made you decide to direct show?
I've just always had a soft spot in my heart for this show. It's just so simple, but it's got so many great elements that I enjoy. The dynamic between the brothers, seeing several couples be lucky and unlucky in love all at once. I'm definitely a fan of Neil Simon's, but I feel like when you watch one of his "Golden Era" comedies (Odd Couple, Barefoot in the Park) that while they're still charming, they might not have aged so well. I sincerely feel that Chapter Two is timeless and while it's set in 1978 everything that was written then still holds up today.
What made you want to undertake a Neil Simon show as a first-time director?
Being a first-time director, I didn't want to bite off too much. I wasn't going to come out of the gate directing a 40-person musical with all sort of crazy technical requirements. There're only four actors in the show. There aren't any incredibly challenging production elements to it outside of cramming two apartments onto our tiny stage! I tried to surround myself with tons of talented people on the production side to make my life easier. From my assistant director, Scott MacDonald, who is an incredibly talented actor with experience directing, to my sound designer, Chuck Goddeeris, the set designer, Obie Burch, the stage manager, Justine Dearth, and, of course, my producer and wife, Molly Dorset - they all make my life much easier.
Expanding on the previous question, why choose Chapter Two, a lesser known Simon play to direct when getting the director's chair for the first time?
It's always been a show that moved me, and I think that's due to its simplicity and realism. Not saying that Neil Simon writes nothing but broad caricatures in his plays, but I feel like the four characters in this show are just so real and down-to-earth. That's also what makes this show timeless to me.
What would you say to someone with no prior knowledge of a Neil Simon play to get them to see the production?
This show is an excellent blend of tender moments and classic Neil Simon comedy. I hope it will move you, and reaffirm your optimism for love and happiness.
Did you do any special research in preparing to direct show?
With most shows whether I'm acting or designing, I usually get very focused on specifically when a show takes place. With Chapter Two, I was looking up Billboard Hot 100 charts to see what songs were really popular in February through March of 1978, what the current events were at the time, and what was the zeitgeist or cultural touchstones at the moment. This show doesn't name drop anything super specific during that time, but as a director I like to know what was going on that could impact the mood of this show.
Do you have a special pre-show or post show ritual you do with the cast?
I believe in negative reinforcement, so I give them pages of copious notes on how much they've let me down. Just kidding, just kidding...my only ritual right now is having a Scotch and reassuring myself that everything's going to work out all right.
Do you have a favorite moment or line in the show?
You may not know this, but Neil Simon knows how to coin a phrase. There's plenty of laugh out loud moments that each actor gets to bring to life, but one particular line I like is when George and Jennie are saying how their romance doesn't feel like it's brand new, but they're picking up in the middle. Jennie says, "It's nice bumping into you for the first time again, George." It's not a "laugh line," it's just an example of the tender moments this show offers.
What makes St. Dunstan's Theatre Guild of Cranbrook interpretation of Chapter Two unique?
I don't think that we've tried to reinvent the wheel with this show. Again, it's not the most well-known Neil Simon play which can often lift a heavy burden of expectations. Ultimately, we tried to bring out the realism of this show, and we've been saying that from day one of auditions to now. I feel we've done a good job capturing that while still producing a very entertaining show.
If given the chance to see something else or Chapter Two, why should people come see your show?
I will personally give you a backrub* while you watch the show, and the coffee we make at our concessions table is second to none. (*I reserve the right to revoke this offer. Void where prohibited.)
Chapter Two runs March 22nd through April 7th at St. Dunstan's Theatre Guild of Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills. For more information and tickets, call 1-844-DUNSTAN (1-844-386-7826) or visit www.StDunstansTheatre.com.