Review: Theatre Aspen’s ‘Chapter Two’ a delightful romp
August 13, 2009
ASPEN – I was a little worried when editor Bob Ward asked me to write a review of the Neil Simon play “Chapter Two,” one of three plays in the Theatre Aspen season at the tent in Rio Grande Park, because I had not liked the movie version at all.
To my surprise, delight and relief, either because this particular Neil Simon play was more suited for the stage than the silver screen, or because it was directed by Jay Sandrich who has a list of credentials a mile long (“I Love Lucy,” “Soap,” “Lily Tomlin” et al), or because it had a cast of actors who knew what they were doing, the Theatre Aspen production company turned what I feared might be a sow’s ear into a silk purse.
Neil Simon is, of course, as legendary for his prodigious output as Jay Sandrich is for his directing achievements. “The Odd Couple,” “The Goodbye Girl,” “Biloxi Blues” and a host of other Neil Simon plays overlapped on Broadway for years – as well known for his urbane wittiness as Rodgers and Hammerstein were for their musicals.
Tuesday night’s show starred James Ludwig, Joan Hess, Jamison Stern and Sally Mae Dunn, all of whom have impressive credentials of their own, and they performed flawlessly. In a play with just four characters, they had all better be damned good or the whole show will be damned. They were all good; they were excellent. Kudos also to Tom Ward, our resident fabulous set designer, for prestidigitating the small stage into two apartments.
The story line centers around George Schneider (Ludwig), a recent widower, who begins dating a recent divorcee, Jennie Malone (Hess), aided and abetted by George’s brother Leo (Stern) and Jennie’s friend Faye (Dunn) and all the problems the two protagonists face falling in love too fast, and adjusting to new commitments.
An irony is that the play was semi-autobiographical, with Marsha Mason – then Simon’s (now ex-) wife – being the model for Jennie in the movie. Maybe that killed both the movie and the marriage (I suspect it was George, badly miscast with James Caan).
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“Chapter Two,” the Theatre Aspen play, was a success – it’s a production well worth checking out before the all-too-fast summer season ends. The substantial audience, on a Tuesday night no less, laughed, whistled, clapped and loved the play.
Two days earlier (two shows in one week!), I saw “What’s Your Story?”, the thoroughly enjoyable show, part of Theatre Aspen’s Sunday Series, where unscripted locals shared their most intimate personal moments. Marvelous. Clifford Irving in prison, Dan Sadowsky in a compromised anal moment, Bob Braudis telling all – where but in Aspen?
I hear that the other two Theatre Aspen plays, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” and “A Year with Frog and Toad” are also well worth seeing. The summer goes by so fast – days getting shorter already, the season about to end – so get your tickets now.