The Prisoner of Second Avenue

Written by Neil Simon

Directed by W. F.Wilson

Prisoner captures audience

There is nothing like a Neil Simon play for rounding out the old year and ringing in the new.

This is dark comedy rendered with a light hand.  Clever banter undercuts family angst as fast-paced repartee unfolds the story of a married couple struggling with economic and social problems as vivid and timely today as when the play was written.  When The Prisoner of Second Avenue opened in 1971, the term “downsizing,” was not in anyone’s vocabulary, but Mel Edison (Dan Kelley) and his wife Edna (Derelle Bunn) certainly become its victims and suffer all the resulting pain.

After 22 years on the job, 47-year old Mel has been laid off. To add to the distress, Manhattan is in the grips of a heat wave, and a faulty air conditioner makes the house freezing (like living in 12 degrees).  A prolonged garbage strike results on nasty odors emanating from the street. Neighbors are noisy and inconsiderate. And then to cap it all, burglars ransack their apartment making off with Mel’s seven suits, three sports coats, jackets, trousers, the TV, all the booze (including the

Chivas Regal), and even the Valium!

How can anyone stand all this? Mel can’t, and the result is a nervous breakdown. Kudos to Kelley who covers a gamut of emotions – not missing a nuance in a range from normalcy to paranoia – with great insight and manic humor. Edna as his ever patient, understanding, wife seeks to alleviate the situation by soothing words and actions. She takes hold, returns to work, and encourages him to get psychiatric care. No wife could do more as she schleps home daily to make lunch for him before returning to work.

Enter additional support – a hilarious quartet of Mel’s siblings: successful businessman Harry (Bob Levitt), who is still tormented by the fact that Mel (the baby of the family) was their parents’ favorite, and a trio of rather brittle elderly sisters: Pearl (Phyllis Spear), Jessie (Gail Byer), and Pauline (Margie Elias Eisenberg). This is the first time they have been in Mel’s apartment in nine years, and their desire to help is muted both by various ill feelings and fear of getting too financially involved. The siblings are delightful, and the sisters maintain clear individuality while striking similar ambivalence towards the Mel’s plight.

The acting is terrific throughout, and the lead couple — Kelly and Dunn — compare quite favorably to the original 1971 Broadway cast of Peter Falk and Lee Grant and to the 1975 film stars Jack Lemmon and Anne Bancroft.

Highly Recommended

Beverly Friend

Stage Door Theatre in Coral Springs, 8036 W. Sample Rd, 954-344-7765, www.stagedoortheatre.com Tickets $38- $42.  Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 pm, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 7 pm through Jan 29. Running time two hours including a 15-minute intermission.