By BILLIE REILLY
Special to the Parade
The loss of a spouse is among the most traumatic experiences a human being can face.
Following the death of his beloved wife, Joan Baim Simon, a Martha Graham dancer who married Neil Simon in 1953 and died of bone cancer in 1973 at age 41, Simon reached a low point in his career. A move to California, however, reinvigorated him and he produced a much more successful play later that year in California Suite. After marrying actress Marsha Mason, Simon went on to write Chapter Two (1977), an autobiographical romantic comedy, which was considered by many critics to be his finest play to that date as it ran for 857 performances on Broadway.
Writing Chapter Two was, in some ways, the turning-point for Simon, the moment when he started to use his own life as something more than an excuse for a gag-fest. It was written as a tribute to Marsha Mason, his second wife and her tolerance with his long-lasting grief over the death of his first wife Joan. There is something very painful here, in among the humor, about a man trying to come to terms with death rather than a new life. The plot involves George Schneider, a recently widowed writer who is introduced to soap opera actress Jennie Malone by his press agent brother Leo and her best friend Faye Medwick. Jennie’s unhappy marriage to a football player has dissolved after six years, and she is uncertain if she is ready to start dating again. George is of the same mindset, as his memories of his first wife threaten to interfere with any effort to start a new romance.
The El Paseo Arts Foundation (EPAF) has selected Chapter Two for its final show of Season 8. This marvelous play will be performed at the South Padre Island Convention Center Wednesday, May 1 through Friday, May 3.
The cast, all local residents, is extraordinary. David Hughston’s portrayal of George Schneider is worthy of Broadway. Alita Bagley is Jennie Malone, aka Marsha Mason. Alita brings such depth and emotion to this character that audiences will rave about her performance for years to come. While there is some well-placed humor in the George and Jennie relationship, the real comedic roles fall to Guy Blatnik as George’s younger brother, Leo, and Brenda Bailey as Jennie’s best friend, Faye.
Tickets are available at Paragraphs Book Store, 5500 Padre Blvd, SPI, the Visitors Center, SPI, the Art Gallery on Maxan Street at Lighthouse Square in Port Isabel, and online at www.elpaseoarts.org.