Last Sunday afternoon, we went with our friends, Ron and Kerry, to see the Laguna Playhouse production of Chapter Two by Neil Simon. Chapter Two was first produced at the Ahmanson Theater in 1977 and is a semi-autobiographical comedy based upon Simon’s marriage to Marsha Mason shortly after the death of his first wife, Joan Baim. In the play, a writer, George Schneider, has just returned from a trip to Europe during which he visited only places he’d been with his recently deceased wife. His unhappily married brother, Leo is determined that George should move on and keeps fixing him up with disastrous dates. Meanwhile, actress Jennie Malone has just divorced her football player husband, Gus, and her married best friend, Faye Medwick, is playing matchmaker for Jennie with similarly bad results. When Leo runs into Faye, who he dated before his marriage, at a party with Jennie in tow, they decide to bring Jennie and George together. Both Jennie and George are reluctant, but from the time they first speak on the phone, they are taken with each other. Two weeks later, they are married and off to honeymoon at the resort where George and his first wife, Barbara, stayed after their wedding.
In Act Two, we discover that Faye has decided to have an affair, which she plans to consummate in Jennie’s apartment, since Jennie will be moving in with George, and that her lover-to-be is Leo. Once married to Jennie, George begins to feel guilty for forgetting Barbara so soon and they begin to fight, which drives Jennie home to her apartment where she interrupts Faye’s almost-affair with Leo. This provides a comic relief to the more serious business of Jennie’s efforts to keep from losing George to the memory of his wife. These are a few scenes from the excellent Laguna Playhouse production:
I hadn’t seen a Neil Simon play in a long time. I’d forgotten how well he writes about serious subjects like troubled childhoods and marriage problems and death while keeping us laughing between the tears. His characters are like us, fallible yet good at heart, trying to make their lives better through relationships which never turn out to be easy. Simon’s ability to blend humor with serious subject matter led to his work being dismissed as lightweight theater until he won the Pulitzer Prize for Lost in Yonkers, at which point Wikipedia says, critics began to take notice of the depths, complexity and issues of universal interest in his stories, which expressed serious concerns of most average people. He is now considered one of the finest writers of comedy in American literary history. He has written over thirty plays, twenty screen plays and has won Tony awards, Golden Globes and Academy Award nominations. The list of his plays and films that I’ve enjoyed goes on and on: Barefoot in the Park …. The Odd Couple … Chapter Two … Brighton Beach Memoirs … Biloxi Blues … The Plaza Suite … Jake’s Women … The Goodbye Girl … Laughter on the 23rd Floor. See what I mean?
Oh, yeah. The way that George and Jennie were able to talk to each other right from the start reminded me of my first conversations with Muri in college. Simon’s plays do that, remind you of episodes in your own life. I recently told a blogging friend that being able to talk with someone right away as if you’d known each other for a long time is a good sign for a long term friendship. It has been in ours.
So, Neil Simon’s my Friday Favorite. Thanks for the laughs, Neil … and the memories.