Saturday, June 8, 2013

CHAPTER TWO • Insight Theatre Company

Insight Theatre kicks off its season with a play that, like many Neil Simon plays, is largely autobiographical.  Chapter Two, premiering in 1977, chronicles the grief Simon suffered after the death of his first wife, and his struggle to start a new life with his second wife, Marsha Mason (who btw will be in town tomorrow, June 9).

We begin with novelist George Schneider (John Pierson) returning to his NYC apartment after a month-long European vacation -- a failed attempt to work through his grief.  His brother Leo (Jerry Russo), a good natured fast-talking press agent, is determined to lift him out of his doldrums with a blind date or two, but George insists that he's got his writing to keep him occupied.  He's not ready yet.  Across town, actress Jennie Malone (Katy Tibbets) is also in no mood for cheering up, no matter how hard her saucy friend Faye (Jenni Ryan), tries.  Jennie is still nursing wounds from her recent divorce from a football player, so she's not ready either.

John Pierson (George Schneider)
and Jerry Russo (Leo Schneider).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Meanwhile, Leo is facing separation from his wife, and Faye is on the verge of an affair -- any affair, to escape her unhappy marriage for awhile.  Faye happens to run into Leo, an old-flame, and together they attempt a set-up between George and Jennie.  They are both convinced they have the perfect match, but neither George nor Jennie are looking to meet anyone new.  After they accidentally meet over the phone, clumsy, cute conversation leads to cautious flirting.  They seem to have a connection and decide to meet each other.  After a breakneck romance and a hurried marriage, Faye and Leo voice their concerns and George and Jennie find themselves overdue for a reality check as unresolved issues come home to roost.

Under Susie Wall's direction, the cast handle Simon's comic rhythm and one-liners well, and Pierson and Tibbets deftly manage scenes that might otherwise come off as overly sentimental.  Pierson is especially good in the second act when his emotional complications expose a hard-hearted mean streak.  Ryan and Russo display great chemistry when they meet up for a little rendezvous, providing some welcome comic relief from the heavier scenes later in the play.  

Katy Tibbets (Jennie Malone)
and John Pierson (George Schneider).
Photo credit: John Lamb
One half of Mark Wilson's set was George's apartment and the other half was Jennie's, filling Heagney Theatre's expansive stage.  Both sides are well appointed with a cut-out backdrop of the city's skyline.  Wilson is also responsible for the lighting design, smoothly highlighting the shifting action on stage.  Emily Gaither provides the costumes and Dave Hinson contributes the well executed sound design.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit I ended up there on a preview night, but the pacing moved along like clockwork.   Playing until the 16th, it's a must see for Neil Simon fans.

Jenni Ryan (Faye Medwick)
and Jerry Russo (Leo Schneider).
Photo credit: John Lamb

Written by Neil Simon
Directed by Susie Wall
Heagney Theatre at Nerinx Hall, 530 East Lockwood Ave.
through June 16 | tickets: $25 - $30
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sunday, June 16 at 2pm

Katy Tibbets* (Jennie Malone), John Pierson* (George Schneider), Jenni Ryan (Faye Medwick) and Jerry Russo* (Leo Schneider).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Scenic/lighting design by Mark Wilson; sound design by Dave Hinson; costume design by Emily Gaither; stage manager, Roger Tackett.

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