The Prisoner of Second Avenue 390.
(photo credit: Yosi Zveker)
By Neil Simon
Translated by Eli Bijaoui
Directed by Alon Ophir
Cameri Theater, Tel Aviv
Neil Simon’s play The Prisoner of Second Avenue at the Cameri has become the
Shmuel Viloszny Comedy Show, and the audience laps him up. Poor Prisoner just
gets in the way as Viloszny playing Mel – the prisoner of the title –
plentifully ad libs, mugs, does a spastic puppet à la John Cleese and romps
through the show in such way-over-the-top gear that neither his character nor
the play has anywhere to go.
It’s exhausting. It also gets tedious after
about 10 minutes, which is a shame because Sarit Vino-Elad as Mel’s
long-suffering wife, Edna, gives this Prisoner the little shape it has. She
really does run the gamut, bless her, from patience to a wonderful moment of
hysteria when it all becomes Too Much.
Prisoner is one of Simon’s blacker
comedies whose theme is cumulative dysfunction – personal, societal and
economic. You might say that its message is even more acute than at its premiere
in 1971. Middle-class couple Mel and Edna Edison live on the 14th floor of an
apartment house in the heart of Manhattan.
The city, the heat, the
neighbors, his job – in short, everything has been getting to Mel. His stress
level has reached critical mass and tips over into clinical depression when the
apartment is burgled and he loses his job. Things go from bad to worse; but
Prisoner is a comedy, so hope is mandatory.
What is Grant Wood’s iconic
portrait of faux Americana, American Gothic, doing as the centerpiece of Talia
Ottolenghi’s bland living room/kitchen set? Is it supposed to represent the
Edisons’ taste in art? Is it a directorial comment? Either way, it doesn’t
belong because the production is not structured to encompass it.
Dar’s costuming comes nicely into its own on Tracy Abramovici, Dina Doron, Dalia
Friedland and Nissim Zohar, cameoing, most brightly as Mel’s sisters and brother
who have decided to help, as long as it costs them nothing, so to
Viloszny, in the moving scene between Mel and his brother, shows
for a few moments what he might have done with the role.
Although he has
managed perfectly well with the other actors, director Alon Ophir seems to have
exerted little control over his justly famous star. It is not to his credit.