It’s summer, 1971 and Mel Edison (Mark Belnick) is finding it impossible to chill. It’s not that the apartment air conditioning is making the bedroom too cold; and opening windows lets in the heat. Mel Edison is having a melt down because he can see his entire life circling the drain. Through his session of manic wailing on the living room couch, he confesses to his wife, Edna Edison (Kimberly Lewis) that he will soon lose his job. He is middle-aged, he’s embarrassed, and he is quickly losing his battle to fend off his own panic.
Edna suddenly understands why her husband’s usual agitation is turned up to eleven. She talks Mel off of the ledge (well, off of the terrace where he picks a shouting match with his upstairs neighbors), with a simple solution; she will go back to work. She finds a position that keeps her busy much of the day, but she manages to slip away to have lunch with Mel every afternoon. Edna shifts into the role of breadwinner far more gracefully than Mel accepts to his unemployment. Sounds of neighbors behind paper-thin walls torment him, the growing stench of a garbage strike taunts. Mel’s overwhelming feelings of ineptitude and failure give way to a nervous breakdown.
Enter the Edison siblings. Jessie (Lydia Weiss), Pearl (Milda Dacys) and Pauline (LB Zimmerman), arriving just in time to offer whatever help they can. Unfortunately, they are more interested in deconstructing what caused Mel’s breakdown and how is reflects upon them, than they are in helping Mel in the ways that Edna suggests. They are not interested in losing their money along with their brother “sanity”. Ultimately Brother Harry (Alan Brooks) speaks for all when he says that they will be happy to help Mel get better, once he is better.
I believe this might be my first Neil Simon play, maybe. For me, the style is very familiar, the tone being very Norman Lear. The comedy in this play feels old and ironic, but comforting: like that favorite sweater. Simon’s Prisoner of Second Avenue is the epitome of dramedy, placing stark reality beside the persistence of hope and the comfort reliable fortitude people find in loved ones. He paints world that is slowly suffocating an unwitting couple and how their only means of survival is each other.
Mark Belnick and Kimberly Lewis are terrific. They have a great “couple chemistry” that won’t let you look away. Their marriage is one built on time tested tolerance and unspoken understanding, mostly. They play off of each other with remarkable precision, making the characters in this piece feel familiar, like family.
Director Kiff Scholl take a fairly talkie, sedentary piece and managed to direct this piece into a “classically Brooklyn, classically Jewish” waltz. Not only does Scholl guide performances that nail the humor of this piece, but he manages to infuse genuine fun into this production.
The Prisoner of Second Avenue finds a home now through April 17, 2011 at:
(Wasatch Theatrical Ventures)
1111-B West Olive Avenue
Burbank, CA 91506
Reservations: (323) 960-7862