Wasatch Theatre Company presents Neil Simon’s “Chapter Two”

“The trouble with marriage is it’s so relentless – you wake up in the morning and it’s still there.”

I sometimes wonder what it would be like to lose a spouse. I’ve always felt, should that happen, I would never re-marry. Marriage is hard, and trying to find the “right one” twice would be nearly impossible. But I wonder how long that resolve would last. You never know what might come along.

George Schneider (Brian Pilling) never expected to fall in love again after losing his wife to cancer. But Jennie Malone (JJ Peeler) just happened to come along. Both are wounded, both have convinced themselves they will be alone for at least the foreseeable future, and both find themselves suddenly turning a page and starting a whole new chapter in their lives. But not everything is roses and sunshine. Bidding farewell to your better half of twelve years, or ending a marriage in search of your own self worth, are tasks that take time. And therapy. Two things George and Jennie skip entirely.

So here we have Neil Simon’s story. Chapter Two is inspired by Simon’s own second marriage, after the death of his first wife, and the grief he still felt for her. “Doesn’t sound like a comedy,” you say? And you would be right. It’s not the subject that’s comedic, it’s the writing of it. In fact, most Neil Simon plays I’ve seen are basically depression and angst wrapped in wit, which isn’t a bad thing. I will admit I’m wary of “auto-biographical” pieces. Usually the author finds them much more interesting than the rest of us. But Simon obviously loved his second wife very much because in Jennie Malone, he wrote a character that was surprisingly interesting.

There are only four actors in this show. George has his brother, Leo Schneider (David Hanson) and Jennie has her friend, Faye Medwick (Michelle Linn Hall). This is a younger cast for this show, but it works. The actors are talented, diverse, and have character. They make a wonderful ensemble.

The show is performed in the Studio Theatre at The Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center. It’s a black box stage – small, with three rows of seats along one wall – a very intimate space. If you sit on the front row you will likely get spit on at some point. In a space this close, it’s rare to find a cast that can make you believe they are speaking truth, rather than quoting memorized lines. It’s a difficult thing to do and something many actors never master, even very talented successful ones. This cast did it… most of the time. There were a few monologues that lost me because I just didn’t believe they were spontaneous feelings being expressed. They were rehearsed rather than genuine. But I believe as the cast gets more comfortable with their lines, this will improve.

JJ  Peeler as Jennie Malone is the exception. She was completely authentic, so much so it was almost uncomfortable – in a good way. Jennie, the character, was also a saving grace for me. Another gripe I have about autobiographical pieces is the lack of any significant plot twist. Those happen in the movies, not in real life. So I expected this to be predictable, and it was, right up until Jennie Malone realizes her own self worth and lets George know it. Suddenly I was sitting up in my seat. This was unexpected and very well played.

There were only minor distractions with the stage and wardrobe. My date and I debated for some time about when cordless phones came into wide use, and why George owned an archaic typewriter. Jennie’s bra straps were also discussed, which means they were noticed more than bra straps should be. When you’re that close to the actors, “nude colored” straps don’t disappear, they just look sloppy. And, unfortunately, I didn’t hear a single word that was said while Leo was on stage shirtless. David Hansen is a tall, broad man…and that’s just a lot of skin. I also desperately wanted to mess up Faye’s perfect hair during that scene, just a little. I didn’t believe for a second she had just been doing what she was supposedly doing.

There is significant religious profanity throughout the play. If you are sensitive to that, you will cringe a lot.

Overall, this is a successful production. Well acted, good space, timeless story. Definitely worth a fifteen dollar ticket and a trip downtown.

Wasatch Theatre Company presents Chapter Two. The production opens Thursday, May 3rd and runs Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. through Saturday, May 19th. (With 2:00 p.m. Saturday Matinees on May 12th and 19th.) Performances take place in the studio theatre at the Rose Wagner (138 West 300 South). Tickets are $15.00 and can be purchased by calling  801-355-2787  or by going to www.arttix.org.

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