Neil Simon’s Chapter Two a lime green slice of 1977 in 1929 theatre
Do you dare enter the theatrical time machine? There’s sure to be some temporal confusion among citizens attending the latest theatrical amusement at the Capitol Theatre in Fort Edmonton Park – a 2011 reproduction of a 1929 theatre in a 19th Century historic park presenting a Neil Simon play from the 1970s.
Good theatre is supposed to “transport” the audience, but this ridiculous.
So is the selected Neil Simon play, frankly. Opening Thursday, Chapter Two is a farcical dramatic comedy, if such a thing can be imagined, about two New York couples suffering what actress Ellen Chorley calls “rich white people problems.” She plays Faye, the tightly-wound best friend of soap opera actress Jennie Malone, whom she and her friend Leo fix up with recently widowed writer George Schneider. Practically writes itself, doesn’t it? All the characters have issues, lots of drama in their lives, see therapists and marriage counselors, and “none of their problems involve not being able to pay the rent,” Chorley says.
Once inside the ‘20s theatre, the scene is all lime green ‘70s. Simon is a stickler for realistic detail, including the well-drawn characters obviously based within the playwright’s own life – he was a widowed writer who remarried quickly. And with four neurotic New Yorkers driving the plot, comparisons to the Seinfeld TV series are also easy to make, especially when you learn that an entire episode of the show was based on lines from Chapter Two. It aired in 1992. Thus increases our temporal dislocation.
“It’s definitely a play that was written in the ‘70s,” Chorley says. “There are a lot of phone calls. It’s not like a play you could do with cellphones or texting. It just wouldn’t work – because it starts with a case of mistaken identity.”
Right. If they’d had call display in 1977, we’d have no story.
But despite some corny dialogue and stage direction and invitations for overacting – at one point Jennie actually beats her fists on George’s chest, something that only ever happens in the movies – the heart of the play is real.
Chorley goes on, “I think it holds up. The themes of the play – grief, loss and moving on from grief and loss, jumping into new relationships – really do translate to 2012. They’re universal themes and they will always mean something.”
Chapter Two plays until March 25 at the Capitol Theatre, located on 1920 Street in Fort Edmonton Park (where it might not be long until we need a 1970 Street). Dinner is also available at 6 p.m. before the show. Click here for tickets