Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

February 13, 2013

Chapter 2

Exit 7 Players, Ludlow, MA
through February 17, 2013
by Walt Haggerty

Neil Simon, master of the one-liner, joke-a-minute comedy classics “Barefoot in the Park,” “The Odd Couple,” and countless others, has a dark side revealed in depth in “Chapter Two,” the current production of Exit 7 Players.

The play does offer a carefully rationed measure of humor, but generally with a bite, as it relates the story of a grieving novelist whose adored first wife has passed on, leaving him totally devastated. Once he meets the woman destined to be wife #2, the courtship is compressed into less than two weeks with predictably unhappy and ultimately unfunny results.

The Exit 7 production is cast with great care. The play is reportedly inspired by Simon’s own loss of his first wife to cancer, and his marriage to actress Marsha Mason.  As novelist George Schneider, Scott Nelson does an excellent job, navigating the route of his character from depression and resistance to “matchmaking,” to exuberant, smitten suitor. His darker, even cruel behavior near the end of Act II is convincingly played.

Leo, George’s caring but misguided brother, having marriage problems himself, is determined to find a mate for George. Stephen Fruchtman squeezes as much humor from this character as is possible, but also shows a serious side in his description of the relationship that existed between George and his late wife. Christine Voytko, as Faye Medwick, a dizzy friend of heroine Jenny Malone, played by Chris McKenzie-Willenbrock, is given the greatest opportunity for laughs, bringing welcome spurts of humor and lightness when most needed.

Top laurels in this production go to McKenzie-Willenbrock for her brilliant portrayal of Jenny. Her performance captures every emotion from light repartee, early affection turning into deep love and concern, until finally nearly total collapse, as what once appeared to be so right shows signs of disintegration. A positive resolution by the novelist, George, saves the day and the play. A visit to “Chapter Two” is well worthwhile to see this actress alone.