The Prisoner of Second Avenue

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Previewed 30 June 2010, Opened 13 July 2010, Closed 11 September 2010 at the Vaudeville Theatre in London

A major revival of Neil Simon's 1971 comedy The Prisoner of Second Avenue in London starring Jeff Goldblum and Mercedes Ruehl and directed by Terry Johnson.

Mel Edison can't sleep. In the heat of a New York City summer his air-conditioning has broken, his neighbours won't shut-up, his job is hanging by a thread and there are a gang of burglars on the prowl. As things go from bad to worse, Mel heads for a meltdown and his loyal wife Edna is left to pick up the pieces.

The cast for The Prisoner of Second Avenue in London stars Jeff Goldblum as 'Mel Edison' and Mercedes Ruehl as 'Edna Edison' along with Linal Haft as 'Harry', Patti Love, Amanda Boxer and Fiona Gillies. It is directed by Terry Johnson with designs by Rob Howell, lighting by Neil Austin, video by Jon Driscoll, music by Colin Towns and sound by Gareth Fry. Jeff Goldblum returns to the London West End stage following his sell-out success in Speed-the-Plow at the Old Vic Theatre in 2008 opposite Kevin Spacey. His numerous film credits include The Fly, Jurassic Park, Independence Day and The Tall Guy. Mercedes Ruehl won an Oscar for her performance in The Fisher King and a Tony for her Broadway performance in Neil Simon's Lost in Yonkers. Terry Johnson's recent London West End theatre directing credits include Jim Cartwright's The Rise and Fall of Little Voice (Vaudeville Theatre 2009), Jerry Herman's La Cage aux Folles (Playhouse Theatre 2008), Dale Wasserman's One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (Gielgud Theatre 2004 and Garrick Theatre 2006) and his own play Hitchcock Blonde (Lyric Theatre 2003).

"Had Terry Johnson directed this as the tragedy that it is (before it takes an implausible dive into happy-ever-afterland), it might have worked. Jeff Goldblum tries hard to be entertaining, pacing around in his too-short pyjamas and hitting the walls, but the more he acts, the less persuasive he becomes. What this stodgy piece needs is a maniacal John Cleese, sincerely believing that he is sane while the rest of the world is going mad. 'I'm slipping and I'm disappearing. I don't need an analyst, I need Lost And Found,' Mel tells his long-suffering wife Edna, and drags her out to smell the garbage. Which Mercedes Ruehl's Edna dutifully does, mugging with all her might. With the appearance of Mel's brother and sisters - woefully underwritten characters - to discuss Mel's breakdown, a lousy two-hander gets blown up into a dismal family drama. Not clever, not funny and certainly not worth reviving." The Mail on Sunday

"Neil Simon's terrific 1971 comedy is a timely piece about the human anguish beneath the grey facts and figures of economic recession, double dips, per capita GDP and the rest... Simon's comedy, handsomely directed by Terry Johnson, simultaneously engages our deepest sympathies, stirs our collective anxieties and stimulates our funny bones, finely balancing laughter with pathos... Jeff Goldblum delivers a quite superb performance as Mel. He uses his own physique and physical presence with masterful understanding... There's excellent support from Mercedes Ruehl as Edna, essentially in the straight-guy role, although with intriguing hints that she, too, is beginning to crack towards the end under the pressures and stresses of modern life, at once burdensome and frivolous, trivial and well-nigh unbearable." The Sunday Times

"Its urban New York angst, accompanied by squawky voices and equally offensive boxy period decor, might have been a novelty in the 1970s when the work was first performed on stage and filmed, but now it seems flat, uninvolving and dated... Despite the fact that he has appeared in a string of big Hollywood blockbusters it has never really happened for the gangly Mr Goldblum, and, seeing this play, one can see why. He didn't make me care two hoots about him. Even his wife Edna, who is played with ear-splitting shrillness by Mercedes Ruehl, seems to lose interest in him towards the end. It is, however, not the players - or Terry Johnson, their highly accomplished director - who are ultimately the problem here. It is the play." The Sunday Telegraph

The Prisoner of Second Avenue in London at the Vaudeville Theatre previewed from 30 June 2010, opened on 13 July 2010 and closed on 11 September 2010.


The Prisoner of Second Avenue with Richard Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason 1999

Previewed 22 March 1999, Opened 30 March 1999, Closed 3 July 1999 at the Haymarket Theatre in London

The West End premiere of Neil Simon's comedy The Prisoner of Second Avenue in London starring Richard Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason

When this London production was announced, Neil Simon said : "The play opened in New York in November of 1971. In my opinion, I could have written it about the New York of 1999. With giant mergers of corporations, thousands of employees have lost their jobs. Paper-thin walls of apartment houses bring every sound of your neighbours into your bedroom, the clanging of garbage cans being collected at four o'clock in the morning rattles your nerves. Nervous breakdowns must have been around since the Renaissance. The more we change, the more we stay the same."

The cast features Richard Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason as 'Mel and Edna Edison' with Harry Ditson as 'Harry Edison', Frances Jeater as 'Pearl', Janette Legge as 'Jessie' and Margaret Robertson as 'Pauline'. Directed by David Taylor with designs by Simon Higlett, lighting by Mick Hughes and sound by Paul Arditti.

Richard Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason are both making their British stage debuts in the production. The award winning actors co-starred in the film "The Goodbye Girl", for which Richard Dreyfuss won an Academy Award and Marsha Mason won a Golden Globe Award. Neil Simon's London theatre credits include The Goodbye Girl starring Gary Wilmot and Ann Crumb at the Noel Coward Theatre in 1997 and They're Playing Our Song at the Shaftesbury Theatre in 1980.

"What Neil Simon and Richard Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason are perfect at is being cute. Simon chooses here to be cute about a middle-aged man's unemployment and nervous breakdown. Simon must be a kind man: this middle-aged character, Mel Edison, is so infuriatingly selfish that I soon wanted someone to clobber him - but no, Simon just makes him cute... He is, unfortunately, as infuriatingly selfish at the end as he was at the beginning, but Simon wants us instead to notice how much better he is at dealing with his life and with the irritations of New York life... If you enjoy One Foot in the Grave and Friends more than I do, you may enjoy The Prisoner of Second Avenue more than I. Still, it is a shock to see just how badly Dreyfuss, in particular, mugs, how he addresses his reactions to the audience, how he exaggerates those reactions. And how he and Mason wait for the laughs! The cutest thing of all is the choreographed curtain-calls, which become a kind of laugh-in of mutual adoration between these perfect actors and this perfect audience." The Financial Times

"The curtain rose to reveal Richard Dreyfuss, looking rather more than a day older than 47, the age of Mel Edison, sitting on the sofa of the G-plan set wearing dressing-grown and gym-shoes. Soon he is pacing up and down, a neurotic insomniac, whingeing to his wife about life's knocks. It is too hot outside; too cold inside; the air is foul, the city is noisy, even in the middle of the night. He lives like a caged animal in their apartment, 'an egg-box that leaks'. Marsha Mason, playing Ellen, Mel's longsuffering wife, is the punch-bag for his neuroses and the foil for his gags. The gags are good. You see some of them coming, but laugh all the same. This is Jewish New York where wit comes with the gefilte fish and strudel. Dreyfuss makes the most of Simon's lines but then transcends them with a virtuoso collection of facial expressions ranging from a beached catfish to a depressive Rodin penseur. Marsha Mason has fewer opportunities to display her talents - but she is delightful all the same: her motherly character, fine legs and ample figure in a businesslike suit took me back beyond the Seventies to Doris Day. The play itself is enjoyable if one watches it with modest expectations." The Mail on Sunday

The Prisoner of Second Avenue in London at the Haymarket Theatre previewed from 22 March 1999, opened on 30 March 1999 and closed on 3 July 1999