Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

March 17, 2014

The Prisoner of Second Avenue

Panache Productions, Springfield, MA
through March 23, 2014
by Eric Johnson

Like many Neil Simon plays, this one is set in NYC, and features a neurotic leading male character on the verge of a life crisis. And, it’s really funny.

Mel Edison is living in a time and place when “job security” is more or less an oxymoron, recession is wreaking havoc on the economy, and the radio is rife with would-be prophets spewing forth conspiracy theories and touting that they know who is to blame for the plight of the middle class. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Director Mark Ekenbarger makes an interesting production choice in giving the audience no solid clues as to what era the action takes place. There is even one recorded sound snippet that suggests an alternate reality. 

Gene Choquette in the lead role carries a great deal of experience to the stage, and it shows. Mel Edison is a complex character and Choquette is a very entertaining and engaging actor. He handles the moods, madness, and humor of Edison’s life crisis quite ably. Mel’s wife Edna, played by Deb Libera, is a multifaceted character as well. The audience sees Edna transition from housewife to breadwinner, and empathize with her pain as Mel’s downward spiral accelerates. Supporting cast John Toms, Marge Huba, Stephanie Chertoff, and Linda McLaren (Mel’s sisters and brother) have a nice scene in which they discuss how (and how much) they can help their brother through this.

The criticisms one might have of this production are few and vary in impact, but, number one is pace. While not a farce, this comedy still demands a very strong, fast pace and comic timing which isn’t quite met throughout the piece, especially in the scene with the rest of the family. "Getting a word in edgewise” doesn’t appear to be that much of a challenge.

Overall, this production of "Prisoner of Second Avenue" is a very entertaining evening of theatre, and really funny.