The last show of Attleboro Community Theatre's 52nd season is Neil Simon's 1977 semi-autobiographical comedy, "Chapter Two". The play takes place from February to early and is based on Simon's own life, the show is a reflection of the shattering loss of his first wife of 20 years to cancer and his growing love for the actress Marsha Mason, whom he eventually 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 unsuccessful dates, arranged by his well-intentioned brother, Leo, he meets a smart attractive divorcee, Jennie Malone. Still it's a rocky road for the not-so-young lovers. George struggles with contradictory impulses to embrace a new life but remain faithful to the old. In a hilarious, farcical subplot concerns her best friend, Faye, a dizzy and neurotic woman, and her attempted fling with Leo. It is not one of Simon's light weight comedies, the show has complex characters, touching personal stories, hilarious revelations and very emotional scenes. Veteran director Jo-Ann Vaughn casts these four roles beautifully and these four performers will have you laugh and cry with their wonderful delivery of Simon's heartfelt and touching script. What better way to finish their 52nd season with this topnotch show!
Jo-Ann's direction is not only wonderful but her blocking is superb, too. She has the performers use the whole area of the unit set of George's lower central Park west on stage right and Jennie's Upper East Side apartments on stage left. Billy Castro,the stage manager keeps things running smoothly with the numerous costume changes and performers entrances and exits. The lighting is by Stacey Aponte and the sound is by her 15 year old stepson Chris Redland whom I have known since he was a young child. The hair and make-up for the show is by Beverly Darlling. The outstanding stars of this show have many credits to their names and this show is another notch in their belts. Leading the cast is Judy Lea Eustace as Jennie Malone. She captures the sweetness and likeable nature of this young woman perfectly and gives a dynamite emotionally draining performance. 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. Having seen her do topnotch work as Wanda, the rich spoiled girl in "Catholic School Girls" and Steffy in "I Ought to Be in Pictures", Judy does a great job as Jennie in this show, too. The long suffering, George is played by Kevin Fish. His empathetic portrayal of a husband who doesn't want to betray the memory of his dead wife is wonderful. Kevin's crying scenes tug at your heartstrings, making you cry along with him. He handles the comic and tragic moments with ease and he and Judy play off each other beautifully. He has some comic moments when he describes his dates with Bambi and Vilma. The audience will empathize with their characters and see them as vulnerable human beings through the giddy delight of new love and the painful adjustments to leave the past behind and embrace their future.
The comic duties in this show are handled by Barbara McCarthy as Faye and Lenny Contaxes as Leo. Since pacing is key to comedy as well as facial expressions, these two performers have it in spades. Even though their characters are married to other people, they show a horny behavior to each other and to Jennie and George, too. Barbara is a beautiful blonde and Neil Simon gives her some of his best one liners including one about her spying a beautiful person,Lupe across the street and even though she finds out it is a woman, she can't stop ogling her from afar.(Barbara just played the dramatic lead role of Lynette in "Frame 312" and this role gives her a chance to show off her comic side.) Lenny 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. He has a funny scene where he does push-ups and the scene where Leo and Barbara kiss a couple of times getting caught by Jennie is hilarious, too. (Lenny just played Mr. Graham in "Frame 312) So for a fabulous look at a more serious Neil Simon romantic comedy, be sure to catch this phenomenal cast in "Chapter Two" in Attleboro before time runs out. (Good luck to Jo-Ann's daughter, Jenniffer who is being deployed to Jerusalem on April 29.)