In Neil Simon’s semi-autobiographical play “Chapter Two,” we’re asked to believe that two people in a whirlwind love affair never discuss their pasts before they are married, two-and-a-half weeks after they’ve met.
What did they do all that time? OK, yes, but… there’s a point when you settle down and talk. Maybe while you break for a meal. The guy in this relationship is hurting because his wife has recently died. The woman is hurting because she and her pro-football playing husband have just gone through a divorce. Both know this about the other – but are unaware of any details about the crisis each other has gone through.
Not, at least, until Act Two, when just before the wedding the man’s brother cautions the bride about the trauma her new lover had suffered. Maybe that’s the sort of thing that happened in 1977, when Simon wrote the play, currently in performance at Bucks County Playhouse. It could be that people just didn’t discuss the personal stuff at their cores, especially if they were madly in love, on the rebound, and desperate for a new marriage that will work.
So I’ll give “Chapter Two” the benefit of the doubt, and assume that rather than being infuriatingly unrealistic, it’s simply dated. The play – far more serious than Simon’s trademark comedies — is being directed by his former wife, Marsha Mason, and she both focuses on its intensity and creates an entertaining evening that takes you smoothly through the story.
That’s also a credit to the acting – the cast of four is excellent, on Lauren Helpern’s handsome single set that shows their separate apartments. Joey Slotnick, who has an Everyguy demeanor and a lot of stage presence, portrays the newly minted widower. His semi-sleazy brother (a fine turn by Michael Nathanson) gives him the phone number of an available young woman, played by Anastasia Griffith in a charming performance. The woman’s best friend (Nadia Bowers, funny yet convincing) is in a sour marriage of her own, and encourages the new relationship.
That relationship begins with a series of bumbling, then crafty phone calls – a clever first-act back-and-forth that’s the best writing in the play. Here, it’s wonderfully performed by Slotnick and Griffith, who play it like a game of cat and mouse, although at times Simon makes it amusingly difficult to tell which is which. Neither, it turns out, will have the upper hand for long.
“Chapter Two” runs through June 15 at Bucks County Playhouse, 70 South Main Street, New Hope. 215-862-2121 or www.bcptheater.org.