Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Neil Simon’s Chapter Two at Tacoma Little Theatre

George (Robert Alan Barnett) and Jennie (Brynne Garman)
South Puget Sound is blessed with a cornucopia of theatrical talent. Just in the past few weeks I’ve seen a mind-boggling array of acting talent — Russ Holm and Rachel Fitzgerald in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at Harlequin, Bruce Story-Camp and the entire ensemble cast of 12 Angry Men at Lakewood Playhouse, Brynne Garman powerful portrayal of Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at and now Robert Alan Barnett, Kent Phillips, Brynne Garman (again) and Holly Rose in Neil Simon’s Chapter Two at Tacoma Little Theatre.
Neil Simon is sometimes scoffed at as frothy and unworthy of serious consideration, as pandering to popular taste. I admit to have been among the scoffers at times, but I have also loved many of his plays. Plaza Suite, The Odd Couple, Brighton Beach Memoirs among others. I admire his quick-fire dialogue, one-liners and evident humanity.
George and Leo (Kent Phillips)
The first act of Chapter Two is typical Simon, and it is hilarious. The budding romance between George (Barnett) and Jennie (Garman) is as funny and touching as anything you’re likely to see on stage anywhere. George has lost his wife and is still grieving while his brother, Leo (Phillips) tries to fix him up with Jennie, a recent divorcee, as does Jennie’s best friend, Faye (Rose). Neither Jennie nor George wants to dive into a romantic relationship, but they can’t help falling in love. Simon writes this beautifully with great humor and depth of understanding, and Garman and Barnett play their parts to perfection.
The second act is not as strong. Here Simon mixes heart-wrenching emotion with humor, and it doesn’t work as well. The flippant one-liners are too facile, and George’s difficulty with accepting his wife’s death and moving into another relationship, while realistic and believable, is too sudden, despite brother Leo’s impassioned plea for Jennie to recognize George’s vulnerability and for both of them to go slow.
Jennie and Faye (Holly Rose)
What few weaknesses there are lie squarely on the playwright’s shoulders. The actors and director Alyson Soma play it as well as it can be played. The good-buddy relationship between Jennie and Faye is convincing, as is the humor-tinged brotherly love between George and Leo. Garman is absolutely believable as the loving and heroically patient Jennie. Watching her in action, it’s no wonder George fell in love with her.
If the pathos seems too raw that may be because the story is based on Simon’s whirlwind romance and marriage to the actress Marsha Mason after the death of his previous wife. (Could it be coincidence that Garman looks a lot like Mason?)
The set by Curt Hetherington and Bill Huls cleverly uses a split backdrop to represent two apartments with a shared couch between them. It’s an effective way of moving scene-to-scene, helped along greatly by Hetherington’s lighting, but the back walls look too cheap for the apartments of a successful actor and writer.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:00 p.m. Sunday through Nov. 17
WHERE: Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N “I” St., Tacoma
INFORMATION: 253-272-2281, www.tacomalittletheatre.com.

All Photos courtesy: DK Photography

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