This weekend the Reston Community Players premiered Neil Simon’s Chapter Two, a semi-autobiographical comedy about George, a man in his early forties recovering from the death of his wife; Jennie, a woman recently divorced to a man she spent six years with; and their respective closest friends, Leo and Faye, who set out to play matchmaker with the pair and throughout the play struggle with separate marital problems of their own.
The stage itself is a fitting tribute to the two main characters, George and Jennie. Side by side are their two separate apartments, each constructed deliberately and uniquely based on its occupant, down to tiny details like picture frames and window curtains. The combined skills of Set Designer Maggie Modig and Props Z Designer Mary Jo Ford effortlessly capture another era, with outdated cord phones and clunky monitors and even retro issues of magazines like Glamour. Jennie’s apartment is practical and sunny and feminine, reflective of a young woman living on her own for the first time in years and trying to find her sense of self again, whereas George’s apartment is darker, homier, and haunted by the memory of his late wife.
Director Adam Konowe does an excellent job of reconciling the unexpected and sometimes biting humor of the piece with the underlying grief and inner turmoil of the characters, particularly as the play progresses. Jeff Breslow plays the arc of the character George beautifully, portraying a lost, grief-stricken man whose sense of quippy humor and optimism is awoken again by his love for Jennie. We see his well-intentioned but manic way of handling this sudden shift in his life grow more and more exaggerated until it is clear that he has not properly dealt with the impact of his late wife’s passing. Lori Brooks plays an insightful Jennie, doing great justice to a character who is too strong to play the victim in her own unfortunate circumstances, and strong enough to fight for what she wants and deserves, but still privately insecure and hopeful as well.
From the moment he hits the stage, Greg Lang captivates with his delivery of the character of Leo, who is fast-talking, overly-confident, and despite all of his shenanigans, made likable by his enduring love and concern for his older brother George. Kristin Poling plays a refreshing Faye, whose romantic struggles provide the piece with just the right amount of comic relief and a sense of grounding, delivering her insights with a resolve that the other characters occasionally lack. Both Lang and Poling masterfully balance the humor of their characters with the seriousness of the inner conflicts they face.
The story is brought even more to life by the choices of costume designer Charlotte Manson. While still remaining true to the period, each character has their own distinct and telling wardrobe, from George’s uptight button-ups and loafers to Faye’s colorful, flirty, eye-catching dresses. The passage of time and the mood of the play’s most sobering scenes are artfully captured by Lighting Designer Cameron Kelly and Sound designer William Chrapcynski sets the fun and upbeat tone of the first act with the musical selections played between scene changes.
The Reston Community Players’ Chapter Two is witty, fresh, and thoughtful, presented by a cohesive and talented cast and an excellent design team – perfect for a date night out!
Running Time: Approximately two hours, with one intermission.
Chapter Two plays through May 10, 2014 at Reston Community Players at CenterStage at the Reston Community Center – 2310 Colts Neck Road, in Reston, VA. CenterStage is handicap accessible and offers listening devices for the hearing impaired. Tickets can be purchased online, or by calling the CenterStage box office at (703) 476-4500 x 3.