Unlike fine wine, Neil Simon's comedy does not always get better with age.
His best-known shows — Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, Come Blow Your Horn — were written in the 1960s and '70s and are children of those times. Physical and social references abound that make such shows quaint.
Their continuing popularity comes from likable characters, Simon's trademark repartee, and recognizable situations. If all those elements are clicking, it's easier to overlook the dated material.
Things didn't quite click for the Toledo Repertoire Theatre on opening night of Chapter Two, a comedy Simon wrote in the late '70s, after the death of his first wife and his marriage to actress Marsha Mason. (Much of Simon's work is autobiographical; Barefoot was inspired by his early married life.)
Chapter Two centers on a recent widower trying to regain his equilibrium after the death of his beloved wife, Barbara.
“Chapter Two in the life of George Schneider: Where do I begin?” George asks his brother, Leo. Desperate to help, Leo starts setting George up with a succession of dates designed to get him interested in women again.
The staging comprises two apartments. On the left is George's, on the right is that of Jennie Malone, a recently divorced actress equally reluctant to test the waters of love again. A frequent visitor to Jennie's apartment is her friend Faye, who wants Jennie to be happy again, which means she has to find her pal another man.
This being a Neil Simon comedy, George and Jenny “meet cute” and fall in love. But there's a lot of baggage in their path to happiness.
One of the play's problems is its uneven tempo. It starts with a gentle progression from grief to a renewed interest in life, then becomes manic when George discovers happiness is again possible. It veers into traumatic drama when George believes he's getting over Barbara too soon.
Yes, I know life is like that, but this is Neil Simon, this is not life, and the abrupt shifts into George's despair were so disconcerting that they affected any scenes that followed, including the funny ones.
Another problem was the cast. Heath Huber (George), Ben Lumbrezer (Leo), and Kate Abu-Absi (Jennie) are three of the best actors on local stages, yet they seemed unprepared for opening night, muffing lines and hampering the Ping-Pong aspects of the humorous dialogue.
Elizabeth Cottle, the least experienced of the quartet, played Faye, and she was a delight. She comes off as a feather-brained ditz, but she has her own baggage that she's working through with humor and determination, even when she's not making the right choices.
I suspect veteran director Jeffrey Albright and his cast have gotten the elements clicking by now. At least I hope so, because Chapter Two, while neither deep nor profound, still has a lot to say about the human need and capacity for love.
“Chapter Two” continues at the Toledo Repertoire Theatre, 16 Tenth St. Performances are at 8 p.m. tomorrow, Saturday, and Nov. 18-20, with matinees at 2:30 p.m. Sunday and Nov. 21. Tickets are $18 for adults, $16 for seniors, $10 for students 13 and older, and $5 for students 12 and younger. Information: 419-243-9277.
Contact Nanciann Cherry at email@example.com or 419-724-6130.