Chapter Two, San Diego
David Ellenstein and Jacquelyn Ritz in "Chapter Two"
© North Coast Repertory Theatre. Photo courtesy of Aaron Rumley

Chapter Two, San Diego

Flashback to the 1970s and Neil Simon's still-funny romantic comedy.

By Neil Simon

Directed by David Ellenstein and Christopher Williams

North Coast Repertory Theatre, San Diego

Feb. 25 – March 29, 2015

Two wounded people give love another try in a revival production of Neil Simon’s “Chapter Two” at the North Coast Rep. While the setting and dialog are straight out of the 1970s, surprisingly little feels dated about this touching tale packed with one-liners that remain laugh-out-loud funny.

George (David Ellenstein) is a widowed writer whose press agent brother, Leo (Louis Lotorto), is convinced that what George needs is to get back into circulation. Leo conjures from his pockets a ready supply of torn slips of paper containing phone numbers of babes and bimbos, but it’s not magic. Leo is unhappily married and a skirt chaser.

In another part of town, newly minted divorcee Jennie (Jacquelyn Ritz) is engaged in a please-leave-me-alone conversation with friend Faye (Mhari Sandoval), also in a lackluster union and who wants nothing more than to stage-manage anyone’s love life but her own.

One day, George roots through a desk drawer searching for a research librarian’s phone number. Instead, he picks up a scribbled sheet left by Leo and inadvertently dials Jennie. Thinking he’s speaking to an octogenarian, the scene is an uproarious anthropology lesson in 20th-century telephone communication that simply wouldn’t work if done by two actors using cell phones.

Set designer Marty Burnett has split the stage into his and her Manhattan apartments: An effect not unlike the split-screen filming technique employed in TV situation comedies where playwright Simon cut his writing teeth. In a similar vein, sound designer Chris Leussmann speeds along the numerous scene changes with peppy music clips evocative of the era. Care for a little Herb Alpert, anyone? Lighting design is by Matt Novotny.

The props deserve special mention. Courtesy of Benjamin Cole, they provoked appreciative finger pointing and whispered “do you remember” comments from the Baby Boomer audience. Among them are a typewriter, princess telephone, luggable suitcases, and where in the world did Cole find that avocado-green refrigerator for Jennie’s apartment? Costume Designer Alina Bokovikova gives us bright colors, platform shoes, and double knits. Hair and wig designer Peter Herman runs riot with some of high-strung Faye’s looks.

Artistic director David Ellenstein wears two hats for this play: as co-director with Christopher Williams and as the bewildered George. Thirty-two years ago, “Chapter Two” was the first play ever produced by the North Coast Rep, making this production a second chapter in its own right.

Lynne Friedmann

San Diego,
Lynne Friedmann, based in San Diego, is an award-winning, freelance writer of news, feature articles, and blogs on science, travel, and the arts. Her decades-long passion for theater was sparked as a teen when the Inner City Cultural Center commandeered classroom curricula by bringing classic plays to urban high schools in Los Angeles.