River Rep, the professional New York repertory theatre company opens its 18th summer season at Ivoryton Playhouse with Neil Simon's 1977 romantic semi-autobiographical comedy, "Chapter Two". Based on Simon's own life, the show is a reflection of the shattering loss of his first wife and his growing love for the actress Marsha Mason, whom he married. The story told in this show is about George Schneider, a shy New York novelist who is coping with the death of his first wife, fearing he will never find purpose in life or love again. After a series of unwanted and unsuccissful dates, arrranged by his well-intentioned brother, Leo, he meets a smart, attractive divorcee, Jennie Malone. The subplot concerns her best friend Faye and her attempted fling with Leo. Director Evan Thopson casts these four roles brilliantly and these performers will make you laugh and cry with the delivery of Simon's heartfelt and touching script. What better way to start their 18th season with this topnotch show in this historic theatre in the quaint New England town of Ivoryton, CT.
Evan's direction is not only wonderful but his blocking is superb, too. He has the actors use every bit of space in Nicole Coppinger's gorgeous unit set of George and Jennie's apartments. Debra Freeman, the stage manager keeps things running smoothly backstage with the numerous costume changes and actors entrances and exits as well as calling the sound and lighting cues, too. The Ivoryton Playhouse was built by the Comstack-Cheney Company as an entertainment space for its ivory factory workers in 1908. In 1930 Milton Stiefel transformed this hall into the first summer stock venue in Connecticut. Many famous stars have worked here through the years including Katherine Hepburn who appeared in 7 shows in 1931. River Rep took over the summer season at the Playhouse in 1987 and continue to produce professional fare each year.
The outstanding stars of this show have many credits to their names and this show is one more notch in their belts. Julia Kiley who is an Anita Gillette look alike, stars as Jennie Malone. She captures the sweetness and likeability of this young woman perfectly. Her strongest scenes are when she gets upset first with Leo and then with George, conveying her feelings to them with a powerful performance, eliciting the pathos the lines need. Julia just won the Outstanding Actress in a Musical (Follies) for her role as Sally for the 2003-04 season by the Connecticut Critics Circle. (She does a great job again in this show as Jennie and congratulations on a well earned victory.) The long suffering George is played by Warren Kelley. His empathetic portrayal of a husband who doesn't want to betray the memory of his dead wife is fantastic. Warren's crying scenes pull at your heartstrings, bringing you to cry along with him. He handles the comic and tragic moments with ease and he and Julia play off each other wonderfully. The comic duties in this show are handled by Jean Tefler as Faye and Owen Thompson as Leo. Even though their characters are married to other people, they show a horny behavior to each other and to Jennie and George, too. Jean uses a Southern accent in this show and Neil Simon gives her some of his best one liners including her spying on a beautiful person across the street even though she finds out its a woman she can't stop oogling her from afar. Owen has a monologue about George's first wife Barbara that he delivers seamlessly, handling the serious side of Leo while doing it. He also shows good comic timing with the other cast members, bringing out the humor of the script. So for a fabulous look at a more serious Neil Simon romantic comedy, be sure to catch this phenomenal cast in "Chapter Two" at this gorgeous summer theatre before time runs out. Tell them Tony sent you. You definitely won't be disappointed.