The Prisoner of Second Avenue - Review

Neil Simon, one of New York's most prolific and successful playwrights, is renowned for his keen observation of the human condition and for often finding black humour in the most unlikely of situations. His characters are often highly neurotic yet provide much entertainment. Felix Unger in The Odd Couple is a classic example. Many others, like Mel in the current production, suffer nervous breakdowns.

Having been made redundant from the company to whom he has given 32 years of his life he comes home to find that his apartment has been burgled. His life falls apart and despite the support of his devoted wife he sinks into deep depression and paranoia. Despite the well meaning efforts of his sisters and brother he survives and is then able to support his wife, Edna, in her time of crisis.

The play is one of Simon's serious comedies and although the above synopsis may give the impression of a gloomy evening it was not the case. The seriousness was lightened throughout with wisecrack one-liners and much humour, albeit that the humour was a little wry and chuckle-inducing as opposed to side-splitting.

The play is a challenge to the actors playing Mel and Edna who are required to sustain the evening by themselves as the play is virtually a duologue. It is only in one scene that they are joined by other actors.

Jerry Lyne, as Mel, added another fine portrayal to his gallery of American men in crisis. He handled well the series of spectacular rants and rages through which the character vents his anger and frustration at the events that upset his life.

By contrast Sheelagh Baker's Edna was a gentle-natured creature desperately trying to understand and cope with the decline of her husband. Her performance was a delight to watch.

A lot of the evening's humour came in the one scene where the couple are visited by Mel's three sisters and brother. The scene provided some wonderful cameo roles that were grasped with relish by the actors, in particular Janet Hewlett-Davies and Diana Beall.

It is pleasing to note that the promise showed by Alex Epps on making her directorial debut with Not About Heroes continues with this latest production

 

Barrie Jerram
20th February 2005