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Thursday, February 29

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Theater Wed Nov 11 2015

Neil Simon's Chapter Two a Delightful Throwback

Chapter TwoChapter Two, Neil Simon's tribute to his whirlwind romance and subsequent marriage to actress Marsha Mason, was clearly written in the 1970s. The plot revolves around a mistaken phone call that resulted in a subsequent and immediate "five minute date" in one of the character's apartments.

I don't know about you, but my experience of dating in 2015 rarely revolves around wrong numbers and the meeting of charming strangers. Mine more often involves obsessive online research of potential dates, the use of some mediated communications (text, facebook post, tweet, etc.) and the ability to communicate with one's potential partner with immediacy and in multiple forms of media. (Or the engagement of what I fondly refer to as "L.U.D.I.S.," or the "Lesbian Underground Dating Information System," e.g. everyone you date knows someone you know somehow through one of their exes. But I digress.) That said, Chapter Two is a delightful throwback to a simpler time, when dating actually involved seeing someone for a few hours over an evening and not just swiping one direction or another prior to a hookup.

The production of Chapter Two, directed by Jessica Thebus and playing at the Windy City Playhouse through Dec. 20 handles the contrast between now and then with dexterity and an endearing quality that makes audiences yearn for that simpler time. The plot involves two strangers--George Schneider (played by Brian McCaskill), a writer, and Jennie Malone (played by Amy Rubenstein), a soap opera actress--who accidentally connect after George calls Jennie by mistake, thinking she is an elderly librarian whose services he requires for a book he's writing.

George received Jennie's phone number from his brother Leo Schneider (played by Peter DeFaria), as a setup from Faye Medwick (played by Amy J. Carle), Jennie's best friend. Typical of Simon, the twists, turns and rapid-fire repartee of these first conversations (George calls Jennie a number of times over and over until he gets her to agree to meet in person) feel fresh and timeless. The meat of the plot is revealed as Jennie and George's whirlwind romance leads to a quick marriage proposal upon which the seriousness of George's recent past (he's widowed) becomes clear. The play then takes a darker turn in act two and resolves with a positive (and romantic outcome).

The direction of the actors by Thebus is fantastic. All four performers stand out and feels perfectly cast for their roles. McCaskill is an affable and likeable George and Rubenstein is a fantastic Jennie--charming, cute and a good match for both McCaskill's positive energy and a fantastic counterpoint to his darker moments. And DeFaria and Carle shine as the supporting characters, Leo and Faye. These two have their own "moment," which is one of the funniest (albeit slightly predictable) turns of the play and is really comedy gold. DeFaria, in particular, is hysterical throughout the play.

The set (designed by Scott Davis) was outstanding as well. The set really captures the essence of 1970s New York City living, with George in a dark-wood-paneled vintage unit (presumably a co-op on the upper East Side) and Jennie in a more modern (for the 1970s, anyway) unit. I had only two complaints with the set: 1) the use of a twenty-teens Klippan sofa from IKEA as Jennie's couch (sorry, it's just too ubiquitous of a piece to go unnoticed), even though the lines seem slightly retro; and 2) the use of a supersaturated turquoise with white trim for wall paint in Jennie's apartment. (The color was too saturated and the look was too fresh to pull up 1970s d├ęcor in my mind.)

The costumes (by Melissa Torchia) were excellent. Each character looked seventies without seeming too dated (modern touches such as stretch denim were employed) and I coveted half of Jennie's wardrobe. It was a delight to watch the costumes throughout the production.

Obviously, Neil Simon having written the play gave it a breezy and fun quality--but the fact that it was autobiographical (he was also widowed) imbued the production with a darkness that provided a nice counterpoint to the comedic parts. It was nice that it made audiences laugh and cry (literally)--making the production seem all the more "real" and "universal," rather than an antiquated time capsule. It could have easily fallen into that trap, with all of the '70s references. It was Thebus' direction that made the piece coherent and relevant in 2015.

Just a brief mention that the Windy City Playhouse, a new venue for Chicago (it opened about six months ago), was a great new space to see a play. There were no bad seats in the house and the front of the audience space was filled with wide risers and comfortable u-shaped club chairs (that swiveled). The space featured a large bar in the front (with plenty of seating to grab a drink before a show) and text drink ordering, so audience members could order their drink and simply pick it up at intermission. The space was well-appointed and felt clean, sleek and comfortable--such a contrast to the many dusty storefronts in the Chicago theater scene.

Chapter Two plays at the Windy City Playhouse (3014 W. Irving Park Rd.) through Dec. 20. Performances are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30; Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm with variable times on Sundays (and some Saturday matinees). Tickets range from $25-$45. Check their website for showtimes and to purchase.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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