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Vienna Theatre Company The Prisoner of Second Avenue

By • Oct 29th, 2010 • Category: Reviews
The Prisoner of Second Avenue by Neil Simon
Vienna Theatre Company
Vienna Community Center, Vienna, VA
Through November 6th
2:00 with one intermission
$14/$12 Seniors and Students
Reviewed October 22nd, 2010

The Prisoner of Second Avenue is a Neil Simon play concerning a middle-aged couple, Mel and Edna Edison. et in the early 1970s Mel has lost his job, and the world is quickly changing around him. Edna supports Mel, both with encouragement and financially by getting her own job. It’s too bad that Mel becomes a prisoner in their apartment and has a nervous breakdown. Then his siblings arrive to “help.”

The Prisoner of Second Avenue is entirely carried by the Edisons. Chuck Dluhy as Mel and Jessie Roberts as Edna were the only two actors on stage through the entire first act, and through at least half of the second act. Dluhy introduced Mel as nervous with a twinge of fear, although hiding the truth from his wife Edna. By the second scene, we could see Mel going mad right before our eyes, with Dluhy pacing, yelling, and then becoming quiet at times. His fear and pain at losing his job was obvious. Meanwhile Roberts played Edna as very supportive of Mel, no matter what. She cared for him, yet allowed her fears to shine through while she was talking with Mel. In the second Act Roberts was still being supportive of Mel, but was also a doormat for him as he took advantage of her. This was a sign of the 70s. Some of the lines reminded me of the movies Tootsie and Mr. Mom, as gender roles were reversed and explored. Dluhy in the second act went nuts, exhibiting signs of paranoia, and driving quickly towards the edge of sanity. Roberts was a bit hard to hear sometimes, that could have been a conscious decision about her character, but the low volume did make it a bit more difficult to follow the scene. Director Rosemary Hartman kept the show’s pace lively, while increasing the tension mostly by Dluhy’s actions.

Halfway through the second act, Mel’s brother and three sisters arrived to help however they could. The 4 actors (Ken Perkowski, Joan Zeigler, Susana Romana and Janice Zucker) were very truthful in their roles as quarreling siblings. The women were both petty, yet concerned about their baby brother’s health. While the siblings were waiting for Edna to finish her coversation with the doctor, they nailed the mannerisms of their characters, that scene was very amusing.

Ben Allen created some excellent special effects for the show, and I’m not going to ruin the surprise with details of what they were. There was a sound effect in the first scene that was played on a loop, but the loop wasn’t long enough, resulting in an awkward silence for a few seconds as the sound effect reset. Between each scene there was a radio news announcer giving the day’s news. The announcer was a clever way to cover time during costume and scene changes. John Vasko’s set was attractive, although you should pay close attention to the small touches on the set’s decorations and props in the first scene.There were a few minor lighting problems on opening night, but I’d hope they have been worked out by now.

Watching a couple self-destruct could have been tedious, but outstanding acting from Chuck Dluhy and Jessie Roberts combined with Rosemary Hartman’s directing mark The Prisoner of Second Avenue as a very entertaining play.

Note From The Director

If you close your eyes and just listen to the dialogue in the play, you might think Nil Simon had written it just recently. The problems experienced by Mel and Edna Edison uncannily mirror what is happening to many in our country today; recession, unemployment civil unrest, financial instability. However, the play was actually written and originally performed in 1971. Simon sets his play in a strike-ridden New York City, where unemployment is the highest it has been in a long time (not quite as high as today, but close). Mel has lost his job after 22 loyal years to the same company. His angst surrounding this blow to his pride sets sets him on a whirling path to a nervous breakdown. Much to Mel’s chagrin, Edna goes to work to help pay the bills and ends up close to having her own breakdown. It doesn’t sound much like a comedy, does it? I promise you, Simon has given us pearls of humor to latch onto amid the chaos. There is an old maxim: “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” I think it applies here.

Cast

  • Mel Edison: Chuck Dluhy
  • Edna Edison: Jessie Roberts
  • Harry: Ken Perkowski
  • Pearl: Joan Zeigler
  • Jessie: Susana Romana
  • Pauline: Janice Zucker

Crew

  • Producer: Barbara Chaudet
  • Producer: Ken Perkowski
  • Producer: Suzanne Maloney
  • Director: Rosemary Hartman
  • Stage Manager: Laura Forgotstein
  • Set Design: John Vasko
  • Lighting Design: Chris Hardy
  • Sound Design: Jon Roberts
  • Costume Design: Farrell Hartigan, Suzanne Maloney
  • Properties Design: Barbara Matthews
  • Makeup Design: Amber Dyer
  • Special Effects Design: Ben Allen
  • Assistant Stage Managers: Ben Allen, Sherri Singer
  • Master Carpenter: John Vasco
  • Set Construction: Ben Allen, Tom Epps, Rosemary Hartman, Bill Mullins, Charlotte Perkowski, Eric Storck
  • Lighting Crew: Roberrt Bouwmeester, Catherine La Valley, Tom Epps
  • Light Board operators: Michael Schwandt, Adrian Steel
  • Sound Board Operators: Jon Roberts, Bob Zeigler
  • Photographer: Harold Bonaquist
  • Graphics: Harold Bonaquist
  • Program Design: Tom Epps

Disclaimer: Vienna Theatre Company provided a complimentary media ticket to ShowBizRadio for this review. VTC also purchased advertising on ShowBizRadio.net.

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has performed in local productions, but prefers to be behind the scenes. Mike earned a Career Studies Certificate in Theater from Northern Virginia Community College. Mike is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and the Online News Association.

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