Chapter Two – The title here refers to “Chapter Two” of a life. Our main characters are a widower and a divorcee who get set up on a date by mutual friends. He’s very much still in mourning, but has emerged in some ways from his grief and she is looking for real love after a disastrous marriage. They begin by talking on the phone, and there’s some brilliantly and falsely disastrous miscommunication that allows them to talk and learn about each other. He meant to call an older woman about something unrelated and ends up talking to her by accident. It’s not exactly a meet-cute, but takes on the energy of on. They talk more and more and eventually begin dating. The curtain falls on act I and we open again on the two of them returning from a honeymoon that has the exact opposite feel of the early phone conversation. Something has gone disastrously wrong. What we soon learn is that our widower spent the entire honeymoon in a funk. And this mood grew and grew and he was never able to have a good time, and this led both of them to feel minor resentments and lash out. This causes them to reach the point of a dangerous brink. He’s still in mourning and he believably says he doesn’t want to feel the way he does and he resents that he’s in this new relationship, after not wanting to leave his old one, and it becomes hard to talk about it because she is hurt by his grief. It goes from there.
I’ve never lost someone but I have dated someone or tried to date someone who realized soon after meeting me that they were still grieving for someone they had lost, and it’s tough for everybody.
The Odd Couple – You already know this one. The movie version of this play, which does follow very closely to the play in general (it’s a near copy except for the following) begins with a long, extended silent opening scene as Felix Unger wanders around all night in hopeless grief before he finally shows up to the apartment of Oscar Madison. This wouldn’t work on a stage for obvious reasons, but it helps to establish the state of being of Felix (and pads out the movie some). The play begins with a card game among a group of married/divorced men. Each man talks about his situation with his wife or ex-wife. Most of the men are there as stock characters, but we have a man whose wife is on vacation and he has to check in (men of course get very weird when wives are out of town) and there’s the cop who makes jokes about breaking up the game when he’s losing. It’s a lot of banter, and also functions as a kind of Greek chorus that will help frame other parts of the story. Our focus is first on Oscar, who we need to meet because he is one part of our title couple. He’s divorced with kids, and a sportswriter who is a slob and likes to play the field. He’s also a stock character in a way, or maybe has helped to create the stock character of divorced dad. Anyway, as they’re talking they find out via phonecall that Felix’s wife has left him and he stormed out and threaten suicide. So they are worried. He finally shows up the game and they each fawn over him and try to give him advice or comfort. What’s decided is that he should stay the night at Oscar’s place. Before bed, he decides to clean up from the game, and this sets in motion the rest of the play. The Odd Couple aspect of the whole thing I think feels much more robust in memory than in actuality for the play, maybe because of several movie versions and two different tv shows, but it’s still there, and more so, it’s pretty funny. It’s also a funny snapshot of a time and a place.
The Prisoner of Second Avenue – Mel Edison starts cracking up one night. It’s the middle of the night and he’s awoken by the sounds of the city. He wakes his wife up with fretting and they start discussing things. What we find out before too long is that Mel has lost his job and is breaking down. The life that he built feels like it’s unraveling and he’s taking it out on whoever and whatever he can, including himself. But it’s also a comedy, a black one, so the effects are mitigated in various ways. Oh, also the apartment gets robbed. Mel needs something and it’s unclear what. They call his siblings and a choice is presented as to whether he needs intensive therapy or a new vocation. Both are costly and neither guaranteed.
Biloxi Blues – I grew up watching the movie version of this. We had it on tape from a free preview of HBO. Not only was it not particularly appropriate for kids, I wouldn’t have understood it anyway. This is part of a three-part memoir of plays called the Eugene trilogy. I haven’t read the first one, but having read this and the follow-up, I do think it’s clear they can be read separately. Anyway, Eugene is a would-be writer and he’s being shipped off to basic training for the army near the beginning of WWII. Eugene is the chronicler of events, but not always the protagonist. Instead, there’s a cast of characters, but who gets the most attention is Arnold Epstein, who seems to have the army’s number from day one. If you can be a conscientious assenter, Arnold is. The cast of characters includes soldiers from all over the country and of course an overbearing drill sergeant, played by Christopher Walken in the movie, but by William Sadler in the original stage version. Matthew Broderick plays Eugene in both film and stage versions. The story is the story of basic training, is a kind of kunstlerroman for Eugene as a writer, and is about getting laid. It’s also about the exercise of power, the prejudicial inconsistencies in the US, and the tolls of army life on young men. There’s a moment when the soldiers discuss the mortality rate projections for invasions of Japan and Europe, and they talk about how something like 64% of them would be killed. There’s also a lot of conversations about what one would do with the ideal life. It’s important to remember throughout that these are 18/19 year olds.
Broadway Bound – The sequel or more so follow up to Biloxi Blues. Eugene has returned home from the war and is thinking about next steps. He’s living with his parents, and grandfather, and he and his brother are looking into becoming comedy writers. There’s three different throughlines in this claustrophobic play. The boys are thinking through their careers and trying out different scenes, sketches, and scenarios. We have the grandfather peering down at mortality. And we have the unraveling of the parents’ marriage when it becomes open knowledge that the father has been having an affair. This all comes to a head (and this is a common scene especially in American stories) where the boys have written a comedy sketch that is performed, and the father takes it personally as an attack on him and their family because of his infidelity.
Barefoot in the Park – The basis for the Jane Fonda and Robert Redford movie, this play begins with movers making their way to the top floor apartment. Paul and Corie have just gotten married, spent a week in the Ritz (or Plaza or…) and Paul is set to start his new job the following morning. He’s a newly barred lawyer and after moving in, he’s meant to start right on it. He’s not a risk-taker or spontaneous really – although there’s plenty of talk of the risk of the apartment and it’s shockingly high rent given how crappy it seems. They also meet their new neighbor, an eccentric older lothario who lives in an attic space on the roof. They discuss setting him up with Corie’s mother. Paul is opposed, as he’s much more tightly wound. Not long into their marriage they get into a huge fight with Paul’s refusal to “walk barefoot in the park” as a clear symbol of his rigidity and they plan a divorce. But it’s a comedy, so you know….
Plaza Suite – A kind of anthology play where a single room at the Plaza is the sight of three playlets. In the first scene, a married couple in their late forties discuss their shared unhappiness as it becomes revealed that the husband is having an affair with his secretary. In the second, a Hollywood producer attempts to seduce an old high school flame who is a “real” person amid all the fakery of the movies. In the third, a married couple spend the scene talking their daughter into having the wedding she’s been terrorizing them with for months. Each scene has its own stakes, but most importantly this play is very funny.
California Suite – Very similar in structure to Plaza Suite, but with four scenes in a suite in a California hotel. Get read for some California jokes!
In scene one, a divorced couple are discussing who their teenager should live with after she’s run off to meet up with her dad in California. It’s a kind of we’re actually kind of good together now that we’re divorced thing.
In scene two, a man wakes up in bed from a night of drinking to find a passed out prostitute in his bed. Not a huge problem except that his wife is arriving soon for them to go to a wedding.
In scene three, an old actor couple discuss their long marriage and especially how his closetedness affected all things.
In scene four, two vacationing couple returning from Hawaii and breaking in California before heading back home. They have a lot of unspoken things to speak about.
Over all, I bet this is a juicy play to get a role in because there’s a lot going on, and again, it’s very funny.
Lost in Yonkers – I knew this as one of those movies that came out and was a coming attraction on a VHS we owned, so I was always interested in it, but knew next to nothing about it. In the play, our focus is on two boys. Their mother has recently died of cancer and their father tells them that he owes a lot of money to a loanshark, whom he visited to help pay medical bills. He’ll need to go out of town to work to pay off the loan and in the meantime they will be living with their very withholding grandmother, if she’ll have them. Luckily, their eccentric and damaged aunt who still lives with the grandmother forces the issues and the boys join the house. There they find a stranger looking after them. She runs a store like a martinette, and even find that they have an uncle who seems pretty likely like he might work for the mob. It’s a wild year of course, and they learn a lot about themselves, the world, and love.