Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Prisoner of Second Avenue"

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entire contents copyright 2006 by Tony Annicone

"The Prisoner of Second Avenue"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The second show of Community Players 85th 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 cope with his new unemployment status, he becomes particularly depressed over the fact that he must now subsist on the income of his wife, Edna, who, out of necessity, has taken a job. When his apartment 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 matter, Neil Simon reminds us that even in the face of desperation and despair, there can be laughter. Director Peggy Pires chooses the best cast for this show, blocking it perfectly by utilizing the whole stage and keeping the pace flowing throughout the show. She also designed the plush NY apartment set which was constructed by Victor Turenne and his crew.

Richard Wilbur plays Mel, who at first is a constant complainer and then shows his gradual descent into the nervous breakdown scene. Some of Mel's crazy antics include banging on the wall to quiet two German stewardesses in a neighboring apartment and yelling and swearing from his balcony at the garbage in the street and an upstairs neighbor. His manic scene where he rants and raves into utter dejection and despair is handled very well. The humor and pathos of these scenes shows how Mel's world has caved in around him and how he becomes a prisoner in his own home. Two hilarious moments occur when Mel has water thrown in his face. His revenge on the culprit comes during the final tableau when he vows to bury him under a pile of snow and he and Edna strike the American Gothic pose with a shovel in his hand. Cathy Fox is fantastic as Edna, showing 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 the finances to small nervous breakdown victim. Cathy handles all these transitions playing the role on many different levels, winning much laughter along the way. She is adept at both comedy and drama, doing an outstanding job in this role, too.

Lee Hakeem plays Mel's older Jewish brother, Harry, adding the lightness and comic touches needed in the second act. He brings many laughs to the audience 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 filled with Neil Simon's humorous banter. The three sisters are played by Mary Paolino as Pauline, (with an excellent New York accent) the cheapskate who doesn't want to give Mel the money, Nancy-Lee Devane as Jessie, the one who comically cries constantly (Nancy is also a superb dramatic actress, having seen her play Regina in "The Little Foxes") and Patricia Cousineau as Pearl, the one 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".

"The Prisoner of Second Avenue" (20 - 29 January)
Jenks Junior High Auditorium, Division Street, PAWTUCKET RI
1 (401)726-6860

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide