‘Chapter Two’ was meet-cute.
Neil Simons’ ‘Chapter Two’ is a perfect romantic comedy for the stage. A four-hander that rollicks along, the play is full to the brim with laughter, romance, and of course the inevitable breakup and reunion. It has piercingly sharp New York dialogue and a wonderfully improbable plotline that immediately makes the audience laugh and smile. A semi-autobiographical tribute to his second wife, Simon has managed to put a significant amount of pain and pathos into his work, that both lifts and anchors the comedy.
Direction by Pam Cooper easily navigated the small stage at Sunnybank, which worked two apartment sets into one – all the while keeping scenes from being too crowded. For a lengthy feeling script, the pace never dipped and while lines were sometimes scrambled for, the actors always felt very secure in their onstage business.
Lesley Davis’ portrayal of divorcee actress Jennie brought a beautiful and heartwarming honesty, along with a piercingly dry humour to the show. Her performance was utterly believable and her interactions with the other cast were beautifully nuanced and it perfectly set the tone for the romantic comedy that followed. Davis captivated in her role with a delicate openness and hope. Her performance was injected with emotional weight, rather than simply a series of telephone gags.
Widower George (played by Brad Oliver) spent much of the play awash in a barely concealed grief. The audience watched rather helplessly as he hurtled headfirst into a new romance, just months after his wife of 12-years had passed. Oliver’s performance was a lovely balance of eager puppy love and grief-riddled uncertainty, and he wrestled with the very painful moments of “what could have been” and “what is” in a way that many other performers would have struggled with. It was this pathos, mixed with Davis’s enduring charm and patience that made the play something beautiful to watch.
Melanie Pennisi was wonderfully angsty as Jennie’s best friend and confidant. Her perpetual worries about her own relationship and the pros and cons to having an affair were a much-needed counterpoint to Davis’ calming energy, and Pennisi clearly revelled in the antics of her character.
As Leo, George’s well-intentioned but sleazy brother, Nathaniel Young brought a wonderful touch of comedy. He rode the balance between grubby over-sexed PR rep, and genuinely caring sibling with ease, and this gave the production a real sense of being grounded in reality. Young’s second-half performance led to a significant amount of laughter from the audience, and without ruining anything, his earnest comic delivery while sitting in his rather colourful costume was a show stopper.
‘Chapter Two’ was the perfect light-hearted evening at the theatre. The story offers a little more meat for those who are looking for it, but even if you’re just looking to see a couple fall in love, the play is a perfect fit. The storyline is guaranteed to put a smile on your face and to whisk you away on an implausible, yet charming whirlwind romance that you’ll be rooting for, right from the start.
To purchase tickets to ‘Chapter Two’, or for more information on Sunnybank Theatre Group’s 2019 season, go to http://www.stg.org.au.