Theatre Works first show of their 32nd and final season is Neil Simon's "The Prisoner of Second Avenue." This dark comedy tells the story of Mel, a New York-based advertising executive, whose life takes a dramatic turn when he loses his job. As he attempts to come to terms with his joblessness, he realizes he must subsist on the income of his wife, Edna. When his home is burglarized and his psychiatrist dies with $23,000 of his money, Mel has a nervous breakdown. As the couple recovers together, the audience witnesses their resilience and determination to survive. Although having a nervous breakdown is a serious subject, Neil Simon reminds us that even in the face of desperation and despair, there can be laughter. Director Mark Anderson picks a topnotch cast for this show, using the whole stage area and keeps the pace of the show in constant motion which wins his cast many laughs along the way.
Mark Anderson does double duty and plays Mel, who at first is a constant complainer and then shows his descent into a nervous breakdown scene. Some of Mel's crazy antics include banging on the wall to quiet two German stewardesses in a neighboring apartment, yelling and swearing from his balcony at the garbage on the street as well as doing the same thing to an upstairs neighbor. Mark's manic scene where he rants and raves into utter dejection is handled beautifully. The humor and pathos of these scenes show how Mel has become a prisoner in his own home. Two of the funniest moments occur when Mel has water thrown in his face and his revenge on the culprit comes during the final tableau when he threatens to bury the culprit under a pile of snow.Mark also designed the gorgeous set while Sharon Charette made the costumes for the show. Connie Anderson is fantastic as Edna, displaying the many layers of this character. She goes from sympathetic listener to hysterical robbery victim to breadwinner of the family to take charge person handling all the finances to small nervous breakdown victim. Connie handles all these transitions, playing the role on many different levels, winning much laughter while doing so. She is adept at both comedy and drama, doing superb work as Edna.
Steve Slate plays Mel's worrywart brother, Harry. He adds the lightness and comic touches needed in the second act whether he is arguing with his tightwad sisters or trying to force Mel to take money to open a summer sports camp. The scenes with his sisters are full of Neil Simon's humorous banter. The three sisters are well played by Lydia Matera as Pauline, the cheapskate who doesn't want to give Mel the money, Roxanne Ladoucer as Jessie, the one who comically cries constantly and Mary Concannon as Pearl who remembers things mistakenly from Mel's childhood. So for a comic look at a serious subject, be sure to catch "The Prisoner of Second Avenue" at Theatre Works. Tell them Tony sent you.