UVSC’s production of Neil Simon’s highly personal “Chapter Two” adroitly captures the ups and downs of trying to piece your life back together after a tragedy, making full use of the excellent dialogue Simon has given them.
George Schneider (Paul Walstad Jr.) is a recently widowed novelist whose brother, Leo (Brett Merritt), keeps trying to find him some companionship. After a series of disastrous dates, Leo finally finds a winner: TV actress Jennie Malone (Brittany Thompson), the friend of Leo’s former lover Faye (Courtney Young).
George and Jennie first communicate over the phone in a series of calls that combine to make a brilliantly played scene. Their two living rooms are side-by-side on the stage, and though the actors never look at each other, they connect wonderfully.
It gets even better when they actually meet. Simon’s gift for snappy dialogue, which usually results in all of his characters being sarcastic, actually makes sense here. It’s the witty repartee they have that draws George and Jennie to each other; if anyone else were writing their dialogue, they never would have made it past the first phone call!
The play is virtually free of conflict for the entire first act — a major no-no, usually, but allowable if the characters and dialogue are engaging. Thankfully, they are here. Walstad’s portayal of George effectively conveys the conflicting feelings the man has: He was completely devoted to his late wife, but now he finds himself falling in love with someone else. Does that mean he has to forget his first wife and move on entirely?
Young is also great as The Best Friend, lifting her character above the stereotypes that usually go with that role. Her Faye is sardonic and cynical, but also vulnerable.
Simon’s shticky, vaudeville-style jokes are out in force, too (“Your bathroom’s so cold, your toothbrush could open a beer can!” someone says), but there’s even more dialogue that is laugh-out-loud funny, delivered with impeccable timing by the skilled cast.
Conficts do arise in the second act, and things get a bit more serious, but the play remains warm-heartedly entertaining to the end.
I've said before that I'm not a huge Neil Simon fan, but I enjoyed the interaction between the two main characters in this one. Their dialogue is snappy and quick, and well-suited to them. Many consider this to be one of Simon's lesser plays, but I disagree. I definitely find more to laugh at in "Chapter Two" than in a lot of his others.