WHAT: “The Prisoner of Second Avenue”

WHO: Oxford Hills Music and Performing Arts Association

WHEN: April 2-5; shows are at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: Norway Grange, 15 Whitman St., Norway

OHMPAA strikes the right balance

between the comic, cruel realities

NORWAY – Look out, world. Mel Edison isn’t going to let a lost job, a New York City garbage strike in a heat wave, an apartment robbery or a vindictive neighbor knock him down.

The Oxford Hills Music and Performing Arts Association is capably presenting this Neil Simon comedy, “The Prisoner of Second Avenue,” on the Norway Grange stage. It’s one of Simon’s lesser-known early works but his trademark one-liners are present in abundance.

However, the play’s serious themes overshadow the humor. The laughs are there with Mel fighting to keep a grip on reality as well-meaning relatives try to help, but it’s more often glimpses of insight into Mel’s plight than outright hilarity.

Director Tim Littlefield succeeds in keeping the right balance between the comic and the realistic aspects the play presents.

Tim Lorrain’s portrayal of the beleaguered big city apartment dweller covers the complete spectrum of emotion. He roars at his uncontrollable situation in life, and he drifts through a sedated interlude of therapy.

Lorrain turns in an excellent performance.

As Edna, Mel’s wife, Jeannie Stone provides solid support to Mel’s breakdown. She’s believably sympathetic, but she shows her own streak of independence, strength and even vulnerability in the face of adversity.

The four supporting characters, Mel’s three sisters and a brother, add some well-played humor.

The sisters are Pauline, played by Paula Easton; Jessie, played by Tracy Ludwig; and Pearl, played by Rachel Leighton. They each give well-defined portrayals of Mel’s siblings, who are willing to help up to a point.

Chris Easton plays brother Harry, a no-nonsense businessman who can’t understand how Mel and Edna are trying to deal with their problems, but he’s on their side.

Though he is never seen on stage, Dan Rennie does a fine job in voicing several characters from the radio and from the apartment above.

“The Prisoner of Second Avenue,” which debuted in 1971, is a darker play than many of Simon’s works. Littlefield noted that its themes are very much related to the current economic and social climate.

“If it weren’t for passing references to Richard Nixon and Nelson Rockefeller, this comedy could very easily be set in today,” he said.

While Simon’s witty dialogue contains lots of humor, the real hearty audience laughs come from Mel’s unrestrained rants at his plight in life, and his frequent trips to the balcony to bellow his protests to his neighbor and all of New York City.

The three sisters also work their roles with skill to bring plenty of laughs at their diverse personalities and viewpoints.

A good set design was provided by Claire Sessions, and a large OHMPAA crew worked on the set construction. Producers are Jeff Orwig, Brandi Sawyer and Kenn Sawyer.

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