Colonial Players’ Chapter 2
Starting over can be very funny
Chapter 2, now at Colonial Players of Annapolis, is Neil Simon’s comedy about the blossoming of a new relationship in middle age, when starting over means stepping away from your past. Since it is Neil Simon, it is very, very funny.
Simon can condense a reaction or thought into an unexpected but perfect line in a way few other authors can. Add actors and directors who bring great timing to those lines, and the audience gets a crackling good night.
In Chapter 2, writer George has lost his wife. Brother Leo is trying to get George to embrace life by dating. Leo’s friend Faye has a newly divorced friend, Jennie. Where this goes is obvious since clever dialogue, not plot twists, is the trademark of a Neil Simon comedy. George and Jennie meet, marry — and have second thoughts. In the meantime, Leo and Faye flirt with having an affair in a side plot that did not carry much import on opening night.
Director Gwen Morton provides a steady tempo for the actors and makes their blocking and movements extremely believable and appropriate. However, a wider range in that steady tempo would have given the performance more modulation and added to the highs and lows of the script.
Richard McGraw does a fine, if uneven, job as George. His performance is laconic in a role that needs a bit more jagged edginess. When McGraw’s George is in full infatuation or verbally sparring with Jennie, he is very good. When George is morose and doubting himself, McGraw is less convincing.
Jo Sullivan as Jennie gives a strong, charming performance. She imbues Jennie with self-respect and strength even as her character fights for her man, sometimes by groveling. Sullivan succeeds in sustaining a difficult high-wire balance.
Jeff Sprague as George’s brother Leo gives a complex performance of a character who has unlikeable qualities mixed with likeable ones. Sprague’s comedic timing is perfect for Simon’s language. This is one of Sprague’s strongest — of many good — performances.
Laura Ivey is Faye to such an extent that she seemed to utterly inhabit her role, giving Faye’s wise-cracking, quick New York style free rein.
Colonial Players is always challenged by staging of theater in the round. Usually the result is amazing.
Chapter 2 does not succeed so well. Because of calls for quick movements between George and Jennie’s apartments, both apartments have to be in full view at all times. The two apartments are distinctly defined, but they make the stage seem claustrophobic. Director Morton uses the space well with her actors, but the set design weighs down the comedy.
Chapter 2 continues Colonial Players’ strong tradition of interesting theater. In their quest to balance challenging theater with classics and light fare, this entry is an engaging, fanciful comedy, just right for the dreary days of February.
Producer: Beth Terranova. Stage manager: Danny Brooks. Lighting designers: Frank Florentine and Shirley Panek. Set designer: Edd Miller. Sound designer: Andy Serb. Costume coordinator: Rebecca Feibe. Property man: Peter Branscomb.
Playing thru March 3 at 8pm ThFSa; 2pm Su; 7:30pm Feb. 19 at Colonial Players, 108 East St., Annapolis. $20: 410-268-7373; thecolonialplayers.org.