Excerpts from review by Fred Hertrich.
Almost 40 years ago, Neil Simon’s 16th play, Chapter Two, opened in Manhattan and was soon after transformed into a movie. Chapter Two is largely autobiographical. It is – to paraphrase – about loss and renewal, and to be sure, it is a resilient reflection, a remarkably sensitive recognition of love and laughter — of the human experience.
Although gorgeously and artistically written …. perhaps a clear example of art not just imitating life but, rather, of stealing from it …. when Chapter Two opened, several of the most noteworthy critical theatrical and film reviewers of the time (Clive Barnes, Roger Ebert) largely “panned” the work, asserting that the writing was exhaustive, and as such, was written such that no one could offer a performance of memorable worth.
Well, to be most respectful, but completely candid, clearly “the critical community of the time” never saw Chapter Two as performed by CENTER PLAYERS of Freehold. This current performance, directed by the amazingly talented and well-known local Anthony Marinelli, and starring the frequent CENTER PLAYERS actors Jeff Caplan (as George), Michael Tota (as Leo), Lisa Merritt (as Faye), and the new-to-the-CENTER PLAYERS’ stage – the UNBELIEVABLY MAGNIFICENTELY TALENTED Laura Casey (as Jennie) – offers a theatrical experience which is indescribably superb throughout. That spectacularly glistening jewel-of-a-theatre tucked (almost obscurely) in lovely downtown Freehold has “offered a gem, once more” as has been the case again and again over the 20 years since CENTER PLAYERS first emerged as a volunteer community theater …. a manifestation of the dream of several who simply loved and understood “the theater” and the joy of bringing community theater to the Borough of Freehold.
Comparisons are all too “dangerous,” but the current performance of Chapter Two is without doubt one of the very, very finest performances ever offered by CENTER PLAYERS.
Beginning with the staging …. two distinctly separate Manhattan apartments on a little more than a shoebox floor plan …. and furnished with pieces offered through Freehold’s Habitat for Humanity …. immediately affords a view of two entirely different locations, absent any need to “imagine” beyond the obvious.
But the core is in the acting — acting as fine as is imaginable!
Although Neil Simon’s work itself is comical, poignant, creative, and show-stopping, what is offered through CENTER PLAYERS is NOT simply – or even tangentially – only a demonstration of the offering of Neil Simon’s classic work on stage. Rather, what is offered is ACTING at the highest level …. arguable comparable to the “professionally -recognized stage,” be it on Broadway or elsewhere. Neil Simon’s work is beyond being “BROUGHT TO LIFE” by Jeff, Lisa, Michael and Laura. No one is “acting the part” or “performing a role.” Much more obviously – word by word, move by move, nuance by nuance, gesture by gesture – creates an evening through which no one in the audience is anywhere but completely “in the moment.” Though simple and direct observation of the audience at intermission – to the person – each patron appeared somewhat “startled” to recognize that, in fact, he/she is a member of a theatrical audience. Rather, each audience member suddenly realized that the “truth” is that …. not, as had seemed so apparent from the unfolding of the initial scene, each was other than a “silent in-the-apartment(s)-observer” of a four-part human dynamic unfolding within and among everyone present.
The exemplification of this unique and stupendous reality was more than clear throughout the performance. Simply as evidences, Michaels’s soliloquy (as Leo) near the beginning of the second act is indescribably unbelievable.
Laura’s (as Jennie) all-throughout comprehensive performance …. the use of her hands, of the tilt of her hair, of the flair in her eyes, of the literal reddening of her neck and the quiver of her muscles during “lines of passion” is amazing.
As well, the “passion beyond script” offered by Jeff (as George) and Lisa’s amazingly whole-of-herself as Faye, through which she utilizes the treasured words of Neil Simon as but one “tool” of her performance is priceless.
Of course, it is a cliché to suggest that remarkably performers “become” the part, but, frankly, even that awareness so grossly understates what takes place throughout Chapter Two at CENTER PLAYERS. To the audience, it is so much more than “identification;” so much more complete than the “connection of soul of spirit, of heart” …. It is the TOTALITY of the collective performances by Jeff, Lisa, Michael and Laura – together -under Anthony’s amazing direction – that in every real sense “moves” each viewer, comprehensively. In sum and substance, nowhere is that which is taking place at CENTER PLAYERS in this performance a matter of talented performers “acting well” … rather, it is the amazing illustration of four performers who ARE Neil Simon’s George, Leo. Faye, and Jennie.
For those who understand and appreciate the highest degree of theatrical performance, and for those for whom GREAT theater is a “bit of a norm” and those who seek an evening (or afternoon) unlike any other …. Chapter Two – now on stage at CENTER PLAYERS is simply NOT to be missed …. Period!
(Fred Hertrich is a multi-decade proud resident of Freehold and a fully-engaged, proud, Professor of Political Science at Monmouth County’s own Brookdale Community College and, as well, at Middlesex County College. With no theatrical experience whatsoever, he is the remarkably family-fortunate lifetime husband of Violet, and father of three children, all of whom were educated, in part, in the Freehold Township and Freehold Regional Schools, as was his youngest granddaughter.)
*********** Ticket Information *************
Chapter Two opened at Center Playhouse, located at 35 South Street in downtown Freehold, on Friday, February 12th and runs for five weekends through Sunday March 13th, with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM and Sundays at 2:00 PM. Tickets are $25 for Adults and $23 for Seniors & Students and includes complimentary refreshments. Group rates for parties of ten or more are available. Seating is limited so call the box office at (732) 462-9093 or visit us online at www.CenterPlayers.org to purchase your tickets.