NORWAY – One of Neil Simon’s early comedies turns out to be very timely, and it will be brought to the stage for eight performances by the Oxford Hills Music and Performing Arts Association.

“The Prisoner of Second Avenue” opens Thursday, March 26, at the Norway Grange.

“I would swear it happens today,” said Tom Littlefield, who directs the show. He said Simon has always been a master at showing the culture of the times with perception and humor.

Mel and Edna Edison have lived on the 14th floor of their New York apartment building for six years. It’s the early 1970s. A heat wave has hit the big city and there’s a garbage strike. The apartment’s air-conditioner is broken and it’s cranking out cold air and turning the apartment into an igloo.

On top of all that, Mel has lost his job.

It’s more than the middle-aged man can bear. He’s headed for a nervous breakdown and it’s up to his wife, Edna, his bother, Harry and three sisters to rescue him.

“The Prisoner of Second Avenue” is a comical, and sometimes sad, look at the pressures placed upon a working-class family.

“The fun of this show is watching how these people cope with one situation after another,” Littlefield said. He also noted that this kind of plot gives Simon perfect opportunities for the famous playwright’s trademark crisp dialogue and quirky, hysterically memorable characters.

This Neil Simon play is filled with hilarious one-liners, but it’s also a bittersweet depiction of a man beset by circumstances beyond his control.

Mel rants and raves against his undeserved lot in life. The plot of this play has been described as a kind of “Death of a Salesman” with a nod to the humorous side of a seemingly hopeless situation.

At one point, Mel says, “Miracles don’t happen when you’re 47. When Moses saw the burning bush, he must have been 23, 24, the most. Never 47.”

Simon has been one of Broadway’s surest hit producers. When this show debuted in 1971, he already had a decade of acclaim to his credit. “The Odd Couple,” “Sweet Charity” and “Barefoot in the Park” are among the nine shows that preceded “The Prisoner of Second Avenue.”

Cast members are all veterans of past OHMPAA productions. Tim Lorrain portrays Mel Edison and Jeannie Stone is his wife, Edna. Chris Easton plays Mel’s brother, Harry. His sisters are Pauline, played by Paula Easton; Jessie, played by Tracy Ludwig; and Pearl, played by Rachel Leighton.

Littlefield said there are also a number of characters represented by off-stage voices provided by Dan Rennie.

“The Prisoner of Second Avenue” opened on Broadway in 1971 and ran for two years. Mel and Edna were played by Peter Falk and Lee Grand, with Vincent Gardenia as Harry.

Jack Lemmon and Anne Bancroft starred in a 1975 film version.

Go and do

WHAT: “The Prisoner of Second Avenue”

WHO: Oxford Hills Music and Performing Arts Association

WHEN: March 26, 27, 28 & 29 and April 2, 3, 4 & 5; shows at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and at 2 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: Norway Grange, 15 Whitman St., Norway

TICKETS: $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and children under 12; available at Books N Things, Main Street, Norway

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