“Chapter Two” – Arizona Theatre Company

Theater Review – October 8, 2017


Arizona Theatre Company, Center Stage, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix, AZ

Arizona Theatre Company opens its 51st season with Neil Simon’s autobiographical “Chapter Two” that raises lots of issues.  Far from Simon’s best play, the 1977 “dramedy” has a smattering of Simon’s renowned but predictable jokes resulting in some raucous laugh moments.  There are several gaps, though, where tediously slow plot and character development result in boredom.  The only other positive is that “Chapter Two” pushed comedies to include a tad of plot substance that resulted from interesting characters.

That’s about it for “Chapter Two’s” positives.  One wonders why ATC would select such a mediocre piece and waste expensive creativity on it.  Even if the company was determined to present a Simon play, there are so many better ones.  True, ATC has presented many of Simon’s better plays like “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” “Broadway Bound,” and “Biloxi Blues” but even Simon’s earliest scripts like “Barefoot in the Park” and “The Odd Couple” are funnier than “Chapter Two.”

ATC has established a positive reputation for quality productions and “Chapter Two” meets those expectations.  Marsha Mason, who appeared in the show’s film version and whose marriage to Simon stimulated the plot that focuses on love and not allowing grief to squash life’s second chances, helms the ATC production.  But the play doesn’t transition easily from its awkward 1977 setting and its simplistic and easy solutions to problems into contemporary times.  The only things used to update it – cell phones and laptop computers – are inconsequential.

The insipid story starts with two brothers, Leo and George Schneider.  Leo, who is in an unsuccessful marriage, sets George up with a woman of knowledge, good looks, and class to fill a void caused by the death of George’s wife following 12 years of marriage.  Leo pairs George with divorced actress Jennie who is often pushed in the wrong direction by her friend, Faye.  Is it any surprise who ends up married at the end of “Chapter Two”?

Mason keeps the laughs rolling as the performers use flawless comedic timing to deliver rudimentary jokes as if they were inspired by Shakespeare.  George, played by David Mason, is a lovable author who just wants another perfect mate.  Leo, played by Ben Huber, doesn’t care about anything except having fun.  Why sensible George would rely on daffy Leo is totally unbelievable. Blair Baker is a feet-on-the-ground Jennie who lacks the daffy irreverence of a New York actress, and Diana Pappas’ bizarre Faye seeks ‘70s relaxed virtues.

“Chapter Two” is a solid if uninteresting production of a weak play that continues through October 22.  Why bother?  For tickets, call the Arizona Theatre Company box office at 602-256-6995 or order online at www.arizonatheatre.org.

Grade: C