By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer
Mel Edison has just lost his job of more than 20 years and is having trouble coping with unemployment and the daily aggravations of his neighborhood.
He suffers a nervous breakdown, and his brother and three sisters descend on his apartment to try to help out.
While this scenario could easily happen – and has – in many neighborhoods, it’s also the plot of Neil Simon’s comedy “Prisoner of Second Avenue,” which opened on Broadway in 1971.
“I think we all can relate to this show because we all have those moments when we go crazy,” said Tina Greig, who plays Mel’s wife, Edna, in the Area Community Theater of Sharpsville’s production May 31 through June 2 in the Pierce Opera House, Sharpsville.
“It’s truly timeless,” she said.
Aside from the setting, the characters also will hit home for many viewers, said Mark Nelson, who plays Mel.
“They’ll watch the interaction between Mel and Edna and recognize something there,” Nelson said.
The production is the first comedy for ACTS after it has scored with pack-the-house musicals and a couple of dramas in its 2è years of existence.
“I think it’s hysterical,” said Anita Quinn, who plays Mel’s ditzy sister, Pearl. “The dynamics of siblings as they get together and solve family issues is relevant.”
Sam Perry is doing double duty as he directs the show and acts as Mel’s brother, Harry. He played Mel 20 years ago with Youngstown Playhouse and knows a director can make “Prisoner” a mean-spirited show or more light-hearted. He prefers the light-hearted approach because the comedy works better.
“This is a fun show,” Perry said.
In staging the show, the set will be representational, as opposed to full, he said.
“I want to keep the focus on the actors,” said Perry, of Farrell.
Nelson, who has acted in many ACTS productions, makes his debut as a lead.
“We joke that Mark is Mel,” Perry said. “He won’t admit it.”
Nelson, of Sharpsville, calls playing the lead a “good challenge.”
“There is a little bit of preshow anxiety, but I’m embracing it – you have to,” Nelson said.
Mel and Edna switch matrimonial roles throughout the show as she goes from supporting her laid-off husband to breadwinner, and then loses her job.
Much of the humor comes from their bantering, and Greig compared their relationship to that of Ralph and Alice Kramden in “The Honeymooners.”
“It’s fast-paced and it’s difficult,” said Greig, of Coolspring Township.
Nelson said he has to start the show at a high level of energy, then has quieter moments later on.
“I’ll just throw everything I have at it,” he said. “If that doesn’t work well, I’ll try coffee or Red Bull or something.”
In the sibling relationships, Simon delivers characters who know each other better than they know themselves, and ancient slights that still factor into relationships. The siblings want to help Mel, but have differing opinions as to how much they will help.
The role of Pauline, the oldest sister, is a stretch for Janet Kulusich Buzzeo, who hasn’t played a serious role in more than 30 years. She has done many musical roles with ACTS and other groups.
“I thought I’d challenge myself,” said Buzzeo, of Hermitage.
Susan Woge, who plays the tearful sister, Jessie, also comes to “Prisoner” after a lifetime as a singer and musical theater performer.
“It’s nice to be in a non-musical,” said Woge, of Hermitage. “You don’t have that added pressure of singing.”
The cast has developed a good rapport, she said.
“It’s nice to get together with these crazy people,” Woge said.
Unlike the rest of the cast, Quinn, of Shenango Township, has little experience. ACTS’s last production, “South Pacific,” was her first, and she has migrated to theater “to do something out of my comfort zone.”
“Prisoner” carries a message for how to survive when times get tough, said Greig, who has done eight shows in three years, running between ACTS and New Castle Playhouse.
“Don’t take yourself so seriously,” she said. “Situations are what they are. It’s how we react to things that keeps us going. I think we can find humor in anything if we look for it. I think the point is to enjoy the ride.”
“Prisoner of Second Avenue” will be staged at 8 p.m. May 31 and June 1 and 2 p.m. June 2 in the opera house at 100 N. Mercer Ave. Tickets: at Muscarella’s Cafe Italia, Sharpsville; online at www.actsharpsville.com; or by calling 724-815-4388.