No matter how talented the actors, it’s just plain hard to fake chemistry.
Fortunately, there’s no need for that with the leads in Neil Simon’s sweetly funny “Chapter Two” at The Plaza Theatre in Manalapan.
Mia Matthews and Wayne LeGette have so much electricity sparking back and forth between them that you may be tempted to give them some privacy by turning away when they — finally — kiss after a meet-cute, which is a must in any rom-com, even one originally staged in 1977 on Broadway.
And that may be the only picayune point, a trifle really, against Simon’s bittersweet work, (a comedy, yes, but a sad one) in which the central conflict is peppered with language and an overall feel that has become cliched in the past 36 years. Oprah would have knocked this problem out by the second commercial break with enough time left over for a book club update. But stage veterans Matthews and LeGette are adroit enough to minimize the drag this has on the show, with big help from Michael Leeds’ focused direction and Michael McClain’s yin-yangy set.
Loosely based on Simon’s relationship with his second wife, Marsha Mason (who appeared in the 1979 film version with James Caan), the show concerns George (LeGette), an author mourning the death of his adored wife. Hovering over him is his concerned brother, Leo (Kenneth Kay), who keeps setting up the younger widower on dizzy-astrous dates. That is until he suggests Jennie (Matthews), a soap-opera actress whose rhythms match George’s. Jennie is a recent divorcee, prodded back into the dating game by her BFF, Faye (Kim Cozort).
Romance blossoms, and it is freakin’ adorable. Of course, moving on to the next chapter in life is a crisis trigger (that’s what Oprah would call it) for George, stuck as he is on Chapter One. And when he turns on Jennie in a vicious verbal attack, it is all the more wince-inducing because we have been charmed by the very idea of their couple-hood … for 135 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.
Hey, that’s long enough to be a relationship in some people’s book.
“Chapter Two” will play through Feb. 10 at the Plaza Theatre, 262 S. Ocean Blvd., in Manalapan, with 7:30 p.m. performances Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. matinees Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets cost $45. Call 561-588-1820 or go to ThePlazaTheatre.net.