Bucks County Playhouse opened its 75th Anniversary Season with Neil Simon’s classic comedy, CHAPTER TWO, directed by Marsha Mason. Mason was the actress that played Jennie in the 1979 film adaptation of the play, and was the inspiration for the character (Mason was Simon’s second wife) so this was a performance I was looking forward to. The play opens as George (Joey Slotnick) returns from vacation, visiting the places he and his recently-deceased wife used to visit. His brother Leo (Michael Nathanson) tries to cheer him up, setting him up with various blind dates, all of which end poorly. At the same time we are introduced to Jennie (Anastasia Griffith), an actress who is recently divorced from her football player husband, and is looking forward to healing and rediscovering herself…but her friend Faye (Nadia Bowers) will have none of that, encouraging Jennie to get back out there. George calls Jennie by accident, mixing her number up with an 80-something librarian he was using for research for his next book, and the recognizable chemistry between the two leads to a 2-week whirlwind romance, a marriage, and…
CHAPTER TWO was the first of the Simon semi-autobiographies that were more serious in tone…still classified as comedies, but not the laugh-fest of his earlier works. The characters of George and Jenny are more realistic, more three-dimensional, and while there are laughs throughout the show, they aren’t the “gut-busters” one might expect. Mason has a good grasp of the material…she lived a lot of it first-hand…and isn’t afraid to allow her personal history (in a romanticized manner) to play out on stage.
Slotnick and Griffith work very well together…the line delivery was great, playful banter was joyous to see, and the later conflict was (as a result) very gut-wrenching. Nathanson as the devoted (and comedically semi-slimy) brother lightened the mood at the right places, yet showed his character’s love for his brother throughout the show. Bowers was delightful as Faye, prodding her friend to do what she needed to do, being supportive, and dealing with her own marriage, career, and a very funny and touching scene with Nathanson, where an attempted assignation didn’t quite happen.
The set was interesting…Jenny’s apartment was surrounded on a couple sides by George’s; they maintained their individuality, yet the overall portrait was beautiful, mixing together seamlessly. Lighting was well done, especially in George’s apartment, where areas were lit as George or Leo turned on a lamp. Pace of the show was very good, no lagging, yet didn’t feel rushed. Yet, the beauty of this production is the total professionalism of the cast and director. The show flowed so beautifully, so perfectly, that I honestly didn’t want it to end.
CHAPTER TWO isn’t one of the best-written of the Simon comedies…there are a couple huge leaps of logic, and the ending is a bit hard to believe…but the cast of the production made it a wonderful experience. The show runs for another few weeks, through June 15th. Don’t miss it…go early, enjoy the best of New Hope, and finish off your evening with a stellar production.
Comedy by Neil Simon
Directed by Marsha Mason
May 22 – June 15, 2014
Bucks County Playhouse
70 S. Main St
New Hope PA 18938