Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Chapter Two
Arizona Theatre Company
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of The Woman in Black, Kiss and Tell, and The Phantom Tollbooth


Blair Baker and David Mason
Photo by Tim Fuller
Many characters and events in Neil Simon's plays are based on pieces of his past. His semi-autobiographical Chapter Two follows the romance between a widower and a divorcée. Simon based the widower on himself and the recently divorced woman on Marsha Mason, his second wife. Arizona Theatre Company presents a slightly updated version of Simon's 1977 comical drama and is fortunate to have Mason, who received an Oscar nomination for her performance of the divorcee in the 1979 film version of the play, directing this beautifully acted and staged production.

The story follows best-selling author George Schneider who has recently returned from a month-long trip to Europe that he hoped would help heal the wounds and emotional loss of Barbara, his wife of twelve years who recently passed away. His well-meaning younger brother Leo believes that George needs to get back out into the world, so he sets him up on a series of blind dates—each one worse than the one before. However, sparks fly when one of the women Leo arranges for George to call is the recently divorced Jennie Malone. But is the emotional pain that one suffers from the loss of a spouse too much for George to get past and is Jennie's ability to be patient and wait for George enough for them both to begin this second chapter in their lives?

Mason clearly knows the play intimately and her in-depth knowledge of the piece and its characters, and her ability to have the actors achieve a perfect delivery of the rhythm of Simon's well-crafted dialogue show in her skillful direction. The four characters all have emotional wounds and Mason's talented cast expertly manage to portray the sadness beneath their pains but also make sure the many humorous moments in the script shine. Simon's original script has been slightly updated to include a few modern references like cell phones and DVR usage, though they don't detract or add much to the already well written script.

David Mason is superb as George Schneider, a man filled with sadness and despair who believes that the deep love he felt for his deceased wife Barbara isn't supposed to happen twice in one's life. Mason's carefully thought out line delivery and stage presence perfectly embody this man who is still grieving, suffering, confused, and uncertain that he may be moving on too fast. Blair Baker is just as good as Jennie, the actress who just got out of a loveless marriage and also can't believe her luck in finding George, someone she sees as a perfect partner. Baker is adept in showing Jennie's emotional pain. When the patience and tolerance Jennie has for George is tested due to his faithful devotion to his deceased wife, Baker's delivery of the monologue that details the courage and loyalty Jennie has for him and the limits of her patience is powerful and raw. She and Mason form a realistic romantic relationship and a couple you root for to succeed.

In smaller parts, Ben Huber is good as George's meddling brother Leo, and Diana Pappas adds plenty of humor as Jennie's friend Faye. Both characters exhibit many flaws and insecurities but also provide moments of comic relief. Huber and Pappas are skilled in creating believable characters full of vulnerability and wit.

Lauren Helpern's beautiful scenic design presents two distinct and detailed apartment settings for George and Jennie that complement each other and seamlessly occupy the large Herberger Theater stage. The silhouette of a New York City skyline above the set adds a nice, poignant element that quickly establishes the location of the play. Kish Finnegan's costumes are character specific with a few humorous touches, and David Lee Cuthbert's lighting design provides a beautiful focus throughout and seamless transitions between the scenes.

Simon's Chapter Two expertly shows how the death of a spouse is a difficult and complex situation filled with emotional pain and suffering but also humor. Arizona Theatre Company's production has an excellent cast and confident direction that beautifully portray an intricate romance that grows and evolves based on the fact that the characters realize that in order to get to the present you have to get through the past first.

Chapter Two at Arizona Theatre Company runs through October 22nd, 2017, at the Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe Street in Phoenix AZ. Tickets can be purchased at www.arizonatheatre.org or by calling 602-256–6995.

Director: Marsha Mason
Scenic Designer: Lauren Helpern
Costume Designer: Kish Finnegan
Lighting Designer: David Lee Cuthbert
Sound Designer: Brian Jerome Peterson

Cast: (in order of appearance)
George Schneider: David Mason* Leo Schneider: Ben Huber*
Jennie Malone: Blair Baker*
Faye Medwick: Diana Pappas*

*Members of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States


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