While Neil Simon is best known for his relentless one-liners and highly-successful comedies (he's the only playwright ever to have four shows running simultaneously on Broadway), his flair for the dramatic can be equally stimulating. This is nowhere more evident than in his self-professed "most personal and painful play," Chapter Two, now running at Miners Alley Playhouse.
In choosing to emphasize the conflict between George and Jennie (based on Simon's marriage to actress Marsha Mason) rather than the shtick, director Rick Bernstein stretches the emotional boundaries of the story, creating a robust and, ultimately, satisfying journey.
Fresh from a European excursion in which he had hoped to distance himself from the untimely death of his beloved wife, George returns to New York only to find that grief still dominates his life. Jennie, too, has recently taken a respite from her life, using a jaunt to Mexico to try to forget her recent divorce.
|Robert Kramer as George|
and Kellie Rae Rockey as Jennie
Photo: John Weiler
Though the physically-disparate casting of the tall Robert Kramer and the Rubenesque Kellie Rae Rockey is, at first, a bit disconcerting, and while the timing of the comedic dialogue is often too quick to savor, these wrinkles are more than compensated for by depth of Rockey's and Kramer's soul-searching in the second act.
Kramer's portrayal of George's breakdown and later silent transformation under Rockey's withering analysis is heart-wrenching, and Rockey's characterization of Jennie's pent-up anger and scorching honesty is nothing short of remarkable, making this her finest performance to date.
In a parallel and intersecting plot, Boni McIntyre is Faye, Jennie's best friend, and Mark David Nelson plays Leo, George's brother. Less introspective and more comical by nature, Faye's and Leo's antics provide the contrast that emphasizes the refined nature of Jennie and George's relationship. They serve as the perfect foils, supported by McIntyre's knack for the hapless gesture and Nelson's keen sense of timing and irony.
|Boni McIntyre as Faye and|
Mark David Nelson as Leo
Photo: John Weiler
The set, parallel Upper East Side living rooms, is smartly furnished, and Nita Morris-Froelich's costumes and props fit right in with the artistic sensibilities of the characters.
Though 28 years have passed since Chapter Two was first produced, Simon's quick wit still rings true, particularly among members of the sandwich generation in the audience. And in addition to its always relevant subject matter ("starting over"), the play also merits recognition because it marks a significant turn in the sophistication of Simon's work - from comedy with a message to drama with a punch line—all of which this production clearly illustrates.
Miners Alley Playhouse's production of Chapter Two runs through February 6th. 303-935-3044.