`Chapter Two' cast overcomes lack of space

November 11, 1999|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Second Stage Director Richard Blomquist does his best with the theater's temporary space in mounting his production of Neil Simon's "Chapter Two," but the Community Center at Woods is better suited to a lively workout than to live theater.

President Mary James is searching for a permanent home for Second Stage, formerly the St. Martin's Players, but theater space is in short supply.

Blomquist is coping by using a minimal set consisting of a sofa at each end of the area with coffee tables, end tables and phone props.

Blomquist relies mainly on lighting: bright and intense, on during some scene changes, off during others.

He also has to rely on the talent of his cast, and by and large the actors succeeded at making the audience forget the spare surroundings.

Neil Simon wrote "Chapter Two" after the death of his first wife, describing his difficulties establishing a new relationship, which led to his second marriage, to actress Marsha Mason.

In the play, protagonist George Schneider experiences similar difficulties, with some laughs along the way as his matchmaking brother, Leo, sets him up with a few bizarre women before he introduces George to actress Jennie Malone. Also providing laughs is Jennie's good-natured friend, Faye Medwick, who is warmhearted and looking for more than life is offering.

Leo's situation mirrors Faye's except that he has a constant string of affairs as he searches for more than he has.

Even with the staging problems, the audience was treated to some stellar performances, most notably by Mary James as Faye. Her portrayal was the strongest, and she got the most from Simon's comic lines.

Convincing as the good-hearted best friend, James was hysterical as a reluctant partner in a tryst gone awry. A consummate ensemble player, James has great chemistry with fellow actors Mary Groom, as Jennie, and Craig Miller, as Leo.

Groom delivers a fine performance without seeming to be affected by the inadequacies of the facility or the meager size of the audience. She conveys a wide range of emotions, from reluctance to get involved to total commitment to George, whose difficulties engender her mounting frustration that finally explodes into anger.

Craig Miller as Leo Schneider is a comic gem, conveying Leo's devotion to his brother and his inability to build a satisfying marriage. Leo is a workaholic who enjoys the power his job gives him. He is a hopeless philanderer who considers making conquests a competitive sport.

Least satisfactory of the quartet is Bob Brewer as protagonist George Schneider. Reviewing his long list of credits, I noticed that many of his roles were in musicals, which might account for Brewer's problems in a nonsinging role. Not only did Brewer miss lines and flub others, but in general he seemed to be walking through the role. Because George is pivotal to the rest of the cast, it's unfortunate that Brewer's portrayal is so lackluster.

Meager audience or large, James said she will continue the company's long-standing policy of donating all profits to worthy causes. She said the profits from this show will go to the drive for a playground at Folger McKinsey Elementary School in Severna Park.

Weekend performances continue through Nov. 20 at the Community Center at Woods. Call 410-647-4360 for tickets.

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