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Monday, 10 June 2013 21:19

The second time around

Written by Bob Wilcox
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The Details

John Pierson (George) and Katy Tibbets (Jennie)
John Pierson (George) and Katy Tibbets (Jennie) / John Lamb

Playwright Neal Simon is very generous in his play "Chapter Two".

It's about a writer whose much-loved wife has recently died, and he's in deep mourning. His brother and other friends try to fix him up with women they think he would like. No dice.

Then he meets Jennie Malone. She's an actress. They bounce off one another delightedly when they talk. The courtship is glorious. The honeymoon is a disaster.

Because Simon himself had been through a similar experience, losing a wife, marrying the actress Marsha Mason, we assume that the play is more or less autobiographical, and so far as I know, no one is denying it.

I say Simon is generous because in the play, George, the writer, the character much like Simon, is the one who makes the honeymoon miserable. He keeps comparing it to his first honeymoon. That's not a nice thing to do. He can't help himself. He's still hurting, despite his joy in finding Jennie.

But Jennie gets the good lines. She's been through a divorce, though she doesn't miss the guy. But she's known marital failure. She's not going to fail this time. She responds magnificently to George's unhappiness. Simon makes her the one you admire. You don't quite dislike George, you feel sorry for him, but hey, that's no way to treat a lady.

In Insight Theatre Company's current production of Chapter Two, Katy Tibbets doubles the admiration for Jennie that Simon puts in his script. She's charming, strong, clever, smart. And doing Neal Simon, it helps that Tibbets has a fine sense of timing, both comic and serious. She lets us feel and think with Jennie.

John Pierson lets us feel and think with George. And he keeps us from disliking George. Pierson doesn't have as much to work with as Tibbets does. George either hurts or stops hurting. But that's enough, with Tibbets, to construct an absorbing relationship.

Simon also throws in George's brother Leo and Jennie's friend Faye. They come from the Neal Simon comedy shop, which, as minor characters, is fine, though the scene of their attempted adultery gets a little tedious, despite the good work of Jerry Russo and Jenni Ryan.

Mark Wilson's set splits the Heagney Theater stage in two. George's half has the book-filled, dark-toned, prosperous look of a successful writer. Jennie's half is lighter and sparser. Wilson's lights guide us to the scenes in each and reinforce the emotional tone, too. The costumes by Emily Gaither and sound design by Dave Hinson, like the rotary dial telephones, come right out of the play's 1977 era. And director Susie Wall, with long experience of this kind of theatre, unobtrusively guides the whole successful production.

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