4 minutes reading time (826 words)

Review: Chapter Two at ETC

Caroline Kinsolving and Todd Weeks in Chapter Two 2Review-
Ensemble Theatre Company’s production of Neil Simon’s Chapter Two offers ample evidence why Neil Simon’s plays are some of the most successful and frequently performed theatre in the world. Chapter Two is in many ways one of the best and certainly one of the most uniquely personal plays in the Neil Simon universe. 
Understanding beyond all expectationCaroline Kinsolving and Todd Weeks in Neil Simon's Chapter Two at the Ensemble Theatre Company. 
Photo Credit: David Bazemore.​

A good-natured, lively comedy peppered with ample amounts of Neil Simon’s trademark wit, the play is a surefire hit. The ETC production couples that with a lavishly appropriate set, first-rate acting, the sure-handed directing of Andrew Barnicle, and the production staff at the New Vic.
Featuring a recently widowed writer, George Schneider, the play is loosely modeled on Neil Simon’s own life. George Schneider is recovering from the premature death of his beloved wife. His press-agent younger brother, Leo, keeps trying to introduce George to women even though George insists he is not ready to get involved again. A long-time friend of Leo’s, Faye Medwick, a soap-opera actress, is similarly playing matchmaker for her recently divorced actress friend, Jennie Malone, who is also similarly doubtful about her desire to get involved with any men at the moment. The collision of these two duos sets the play in motion.
Caroline Kinsolving and Todd Weeks in Chapter Two 2
Understanding beyond all expectation. Caroline Kinsolving and Todd Weeks in Neil Simon's Chapter Two at the Ensemble Theatre Company. 
Photo Credit: David Bazemore.​
The play is inspired by Neil Simon’s own life after the tragic death at 40 from cancer of his first wife, Joan Simon. Soon after, Simon entered into a new relationship with the actress Marsha Mason and marries her only three-weeks later. In the 1979 film based on the play, Marsha Mason actually played the part she inspired.
As for the ETC production, Andrew Barnicle directs, coming off his recent resoundingly successful direction of ETC’s Fallen Angels [see Society805.com review of Fallen Angles]. Barnicle is in familiar territory here, having directed the play before and being a long-time master of directing anything with fast-paced comedy spiced with lots of hilarious social commentary. 
The bar is high for the actors of any revival of a play of Chapter Two’s stature; but no worries, ETC takes care of business, bringing in the fine quartet of seasoned talent of Heather Ayers playing Faye Medwick, Thomas Vincent Kelly’s Leo Schneider, the soap opera actress and publicist duo that get the whole crazy affair rolling; with the two leads being Caroline Kinsolving’s recently divorced Jennie Malone, the part inspired by Mason, and Todd Weeks’s George Schneider, Simon’s successful-writer alter-ego still suffering from the death of his first wife. 
The comic timing and ensemble work of all four is top-notch. Kelly fully inhabits his Leo, exuding his warm, easy-going, rowdy charm. He and Medwick exploit the hilarious possibilities of their tete-a-tetes with a rollicking good-natured chemistry. Kinsolving and Weeks deftly maneuver the more nuanced and serious parts of the leads, and have been given appearances that are somewhat similar to the looks of Neil Simon and Marsha Mason, lending a softly historical look to the play. Kinsolving has a smile that will melt hearts, giving credence to the whirlwind of this romance.
Chapter Two originally opened to instant success in 1977 in Los Angeles at the Ahmanson Theatre, running for two months. At the end of 1977 the play opened on Broadway at the Imperial Theatre with the same cast, later transferring to the Eugene O’Neill Theatre at the beginning of 1979, finally closing at the end of 1979 after 857 performances and rave reviews.
Simon himself adapted the play to film in 1979. The film was directed by Robert Moore, featuring James Caan and Marsha Mason in the lead roles.
If you’ve only seen the movie, you have to see the play live. Simon had to make considerable adjustments in the film adaptation due to timing and censorship considerations. This impacts the sub-plot’s comedy, which features some of the best lines in the play along with some of the more outlandish situations. 
Chapter Two offers considerably more than the lightning-paced gagfests of Simon’s earlier work, for lurking below everything is the much deeper struggle of a man trying to get over the death of a deeply felt love while simultaneously experiencing the exhilarating excitement of falling in love with an incredibly understanding woman. Thus in its own way, the play is also a loving tribute to that incredibly understanding new woman, Marsha Mason. 
How this pair weathers that struggle is a tale of much wisdom and a lot of heart.
This makes it an inspiring play to see for lovers of all ages and a great December offering for the 805.
Chapter Two by Neil Simon
directed by Andrew Barnicle
staring Heather Ayers, Caroline Kinsolving, Thomas Vincent Kelly, and Todd Weeks
at the Ensemble Theatre Company [ETC] 
33 West Victoria, Santa Barbara
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