Review: Solid cast helps lift Marco Players show 'Chapter Two'

The Marco Players debuted their 37th season on Wednesday at their playhouse in Town Center Mall, with Neil Simon's 'Chapter Two.'  Lance Shearer/Eagle Correspondent

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The Marco Players debuted their 37th season on Wednesday at their playhouse in Town Center Mall, with Neil Simon's "Chapter Two." Lance Shearer/Eagle Correspondent

What: Neil Simon play about damaged souls making another go at love

When: 8 p.m. Wed. - Sat.; 3 p.m. Sun. through Nov. 20

Where: 1055 N. Collier Blvd. Marco Island

Cost: $23 & $25

Information: Call 642-7270 or themarcoplayers.com

Something Else: The theater is located in the Marco Town Center Mall directly across from the Crazy Flamingo restaurant.

On the Web: Sign up to receive more theater news from the Stage Door blog via email.

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— The Marco Players opened their season with Neil Simon's "Chapter Two" Wednesday. Solid acting saved an evening beset with technical glitches, but the three-hour, semi-autobiographical play is oftentimes like a spell in marriage counseling. There's laughter, but also an awful lot of talking.

"Chapter Two" tells the story of a recently widowed writer (George) who meets a divorced actress (Jennie) just months after his wife's death. Although neither are ready for a relationship, they get swept up in love and marry after just two weeks of courtship. Problems start when George can't get past the memories his beloved ex-wife.

Simon based the 1977 work partly on his relationship with second wife Marsha Mason (she's Jennie). The show explores some interesting themes about moving on, grief, different notions of fidelity and marital relationships. "Chapter Two" also contains plenty of the trademark Simon "repartee," as they say in the show.

Unfortunately, there are times when it feels like Simon was simply excising the demons of his first marriage through the typewriter (there are even references to George working out his grief in the script). The production also clocks in at an often numbing three hours, with a 95-minute first act and an 85-minute second half.

The cast does a good job of keeping the energy up throughout the night - and there are some funny segments - but it is hard to escape the feeling of being trapped in a therapy session.

Former Broadway actor Michael Hennessey brings his humor, talent and ability to the broken George Schneider. He understands the beat of Simon's words and bounces them back out with gusto. You'll want to watch him smash buttons on a phone and go "aha!" all night - it is scenery-chewing at its most entertaining. Better, Hennessey lifts every scene he's in - and the skills of every actor he performs with.

Hennessey and the marvelous Lisa Lang (Jennie Malone) have chemistry - thankfully. Lang brings a winsome, wistful air to her divorcee - and a hard edge as she fights through George's stubborn refusal to move past the memories of his wife and start building a new life.

Kevin Moriarty (Leo Schneider) and Marco Players newcomer Rachel Gallentine (Faye Medwick) offer most of the comic relief as George's meddling, womanizing brother and Jennie's lovelorn best friend, respectively. Their fun, flirty adulterous scene while wearing a bedsheet and jeans is one of the most fun of the night.

Lighting and sound effects for the show were problematic, to say the least. Doorbells bonged when phones were supposed to ring. Lights rose while stage dressers were still setting props. Lighting effects were repeatedly mis-timed to what the actors were trying to accomplish. The lights themselves seemed unreliable - flickering throughout part of the night and forcing the cast to wait for 30 seconds before their well-deserved curtain call.

Marco Players president Beverly Dahlstrom called Thursday to explain that the theater's brand-new lighting console crashed two days before opening. Crew members were forced to run the effects for the three-hour show manually. The actors soldiered on valiantly, but it was certainly not the introduction the Marco Players wanted for their season.

Jim Swanker's set divides neatly into two apartments - no small feat on the matchbox-sized stage. The stage still looks visibly cramped though, with the actors often appearing to fight for space on a bench in George's half. It is possible that some of the realism (stairs, countertops) could have been sacrificed for something more abstract that offered additional room.

Angela Hinton's layered neutrals fit the characters perfectly - with pops of whimsy in unexpected places. Gallentine gets a fur-trimmed coat and knit hat in one scene (perfect for her goofy soap opera actress), while newlywed Lang returns from a tropical honeymoon in an azure blue that suggests the tropics without being too cartoonish.

"Chapter Two" offers a deep dive into the psyche of marriage and what happens after a partner dies or marriage ends. Four able actors bring Neil Simon's vision to life with plenty of laughs - and offer a little bit of marital therapy doing it. Look for Hennessey's tear through the dialogue, Lang's take on partnership and Moriarty and Gallentine's antics.

I'm still stuck on chapter one of life. Email me, csilk@naplesnews.com, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.

© 2011 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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