Front Row Center – January 2017

Front Row Center

By Michael Warren

Chapter Two
by Neil Simon
Directed by Phil Shepherd


front rowAfter the death of his first wife in 1973, playwright Neil Simon married actress Marsha Mason only six months later. Subsequently he transformed those events into this semi-autobiographical play which opened in New York in 1977. Later there was a movie version starring James Caan and Marsha Mason, playing herself. In Neil Simon’s usual style, there are some witty one-liners combined with loads of sentimentality and pop psychology.

Phil Shepherd and his team do a good job, making the most of the one-liners and carrying the audience along the rocky road of a hasty second marriage. Kevin Leitch plays the bereaved “George” with considerable skill. In the opening scene he has just returned from a trip to Europe, which was supposed to help him overcome his inconsolable sadness over his wife’s death. But coming back to an empty apartment is tough and we feel his pain.

Zane Pumiglia is excellent as George’s brother “Leo” who is funny and cynical as only New Yorkers can be. He tries to cheer George up, and although he fails in his efforts he certainly cheers up the scene. On the other side of the split stage we meet “Jennie” (the Marsha Mason character) and her friend “Faye” who both have failed marriages. Jennie is recovering from her recent divorce, and Faye has a husband who leaves her alone for long so-called business trips.

Michele Lococo plays Jennie, and is unfailingly nice throughout the first Act. Perhaps she’s a bit too nice, though Neil Simon doesn’t give her many clever lines. There’s a sequence of unintentional (and then intentional) phone calls between Jennie and George, and I felt that Michele missed an opportunity to be aggravated and add some depth to Jennie’s character. Meanwhile Collette Clavadetscher has a fun time being Faye – she and Zane have all the best lines and they make the most of them.

In the second act, George livens up and falls in love with Jennie and they rush into marriage. Actually it seems that he’s really in love with the idea of marriage, and he wants to recreate the happiness he had with Barbara, his deceased wife. It’s a difficult unsympathetic part for an actor, and Kevin Leitch handles it well. Michele Lococo is strong in the scene after the couple return from a disastrous honeymoon, and she delivers a powerful monologue in which she tells George that although she loves him she’s not willing to be a punching bag so that he can take out all his grief and guilt on her. This was Michele’s first appearance at LLT, and I hope to see her on stage again. Overall, the pace of the play was good although the first Act could have been cut by five or ten minutes. As always, Neil Simon’s command of snappy jokes kept the audience on their toes, and the cast received well-deserved applause at the final curtain.

The set was original and effective, split into two apartments so that important phone calls could take place with both parties on stage at the same time. Congratulations to Ruth Kear and Phil Shepherd for the attractive set design, with tasteful décor and concealed lighting effects. Debra Bowers was Stage Manager and Beth Leitch was Assistant Stage Manager. Thank you to the director and all the crew who worked so hard to make this a successful play. In the New Year Death and the Maiden opens on January 13th – this is an intense psychological thriller. Viewer discretion is advised!

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