There’s more to enjoy than simple comedy in Montgomery Theater’s production of Neil Simon’s Chapter Two. Directed by Artistic Director Tom Quinn, this heartfelt tale of a widower and a divorcee set up by their loved ones, gives a romantic and honest view of the road to recovery after a major loss and how it can intersect with love on many levels.
In his career, Chapter Two was in many ways a turning point for Simon’s playwriting style, separating himself from the usual rapid fire and physical comedy of his other works. Set in 1977, the play revolves around a protagonist, George, who is a writer recovering from the loss of his beloved wife, much like the playwright himself endured just years earlier. Jennie is a television actress, fresh off of divorce and ready to swear off romance entirely. With the help of George’s brother Leo and and Jennie’s best friend Faye, the two reluctantly encounter each other and set off on the next chapter of their lives together.
With all of the plays existing in the Simon canon – Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues, Laughter on the 23rd Floor to name a few – it’s not hard to see why Chapter Two isn’t as often produced. While the themes of love, loss, and recovery are timeless, the story itself moves in odd zig-zags that rarely connect to make a satisfying arc. Simon’s signature patter and wordplay peek out occasionally, but the dialogue resonates with more sullenness, even in its comedy, than we’ve come to expect from his natural wit. Each of the four characters negotiate the tight confines of the premise well enough, but struggle to elevate the bubbliness of the lighter moments out of the deep sorrow running through the plot.
Co-Set Designers Felix Pinschey and Eric Verhasselt have constructed a well-designed dual apartment setup in Montgomery Theater’s cozy space. This creates a handy split-screen effect for the many crucial telephone conversations, with the clever help of Lighting Designer Jim Leitner and Sound Designer Brian S. Weis. Costume Designer Mary Ann Swords-Greene plays with the 1970’s fashion just enough to remind us of the days when these kinds of interactions required dialing a phone and having a conversation, rather than just a stream of text messages.
As the novelist George, Matt Tallman plumbs the depths of the sadness throughout the script, while buoyantly hitting the heights of new love when necessary. Similarly, Anna Marie Sell brings out the joy and defeat of a woman in her thirties flirting with possibility of a partnerless life, while holding tightly to the promise of George’s affections. Best friend Faye (Jess Kochu) and brother Leo (Adam Danoff) bring the majority of comic relief to the piece with the play’s strongest momentum coming from Danoff and his slippery yet endearing persona as Leo.
Chapter Two raises plenty of questions on the complexities of life after loss and the rediscovery of love in spite of the haunting memories. There is a giant heart beating at the core of these performances and a deep look at the emotions surrounding the struggles of moving on with the next phase of life.
Running Time: Two hours and 45 minutes, with an intermission.