Let me say it right away – if a new kid on the block such as Greasepaint could do justice to a play as rich as Chapter Two on their very first attempt, I am positive that we can expect some good entertainment coming our way from the talented bunch. The rib-tickling yet thought provoking play by one of America’s most successful comedy playwrights - Neil Simon - is by itself a work of art unparalleled in the comedy genre, but it takes some serious (no pun intended!) skills to breathe life into every dialogue that it truly deserves. And on that front, full points to Greasepaint and Lata Bhasin's Slap for this fine production.
So who are these guys? Let’s come to that later. First we do away with a short synopsis on the play for those uninitiated to the works of Simon!
Chapter Two is one of the finest comedy plays written by Neil Simon and is widely perceived to be an autobiographical revelation of the author’s own coming to terms with the death of his first wife (Joan Baim), followed by his love affair and subsequent marriage to actress Marsha Mason. Wonderfully penned, the hilarious play centers around four brilliantly penned characters – a mourning writer who goes by the name of George Schneider; a level-headed actress named Jenny Malone; George’s garrulous but loving brother Leo and Jenny’s utterly clueless but enchanting friend, Faye.
George, a writer, has not “moved-on” from the untimely demise of his wife and despite all the best efforts from his concerned brother, who tends to hook him up with the strangest of women, he’s not been able to put his past behind and start afresh. If anything, he seems to recede further into the depth of her memories. But just when we’re convinced that there is no hope for this man, we are introduced to Jenny, a loveable woman who’s just walked out of a terrible marriage. Fate makes the two meet (or talk over the phone to be precise), and almost in a jiffy, they’re in love and ready to get married. Except for the two of them, everyone seems to think that they’re moving too fast, and before we know it, they’re off to their honeymoon in Hawaii. But life’s not that simple.
Before they even fully say “I do!,” George’s past and his memories, seem to catch up with him. He soon finds himself trapped between the past and the present, and the new relationship starts to crumble before it is even fully formed. How does he reconcile his past and move forward with Jenny – a sentimental woman with a strong head on her shoulders? Do they give up or work things out?
The play is not merely an answer to these questions, but many others that lurk constantly beneath our sometimes straight-as-ray, and sometimes twisted heads. Are we inherently programmed to complicate things when life can be simple, or our minds play games with us? What do we really want out of life, love and relationships, and do we really want what we think we do?
Although it seems like a heavy subject to deal with, Simon’s wonderful narrative and witty and humorous dialogues make it an immensely likeable piece. In George and Jenny, he shows us complexity and simplicity in human forms. In Leo and Faye, he presents us with two of the most confused yet adorable characters right out of a daily soap that we connect with right at the word go. And together these four characters make us think as much as they make us roll over with laughter. Most importantly, we realize that we’ve been there, done that at some point in our lives.
Of course, even a strong screenplay can’t do much, if the histrionics can’t live up to it. The Greasepaint cast made sure that the play was not wasted. Vishal Verma (as George) and Shikha Pahwa (as Jenny) were tailor made for their respective roles, and one wouldn’t expect any less considering their previous experience in the theatre world, but it was Nikhil Sinha (as Leo) and Bakul Dua (as Faye) that stole the show with their brilliant performances. Everything ranging from their body language to over-the-top acting infused verve into the play, giving that all elusive touch that seems to lack in many works of this genre.
That brings us to direction. Even though it was his directorial debut, Vishal pulled off what many directors can’t do, especially in their flagship production – act and direct, and deliver on both! Except for one blooper (not really worthy of mention), the play was one seamless, gratifying experience. Although it may be too soon to say this, but with Vishal and Shikha at the helm, it looks like Greasepaint is going places.
Many unfortunate souls couldn’t catch the play the first time around, but there is hope for those who’d like to check it out. Greasepaint is likely to perform in Delhi and Vizag again this winter. Get ready for a good dose of laughter and tune in for more updates right here at Culturazzi!