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THEATER REVIEWS : A Comical Voyage Into Courtship : Capable cast of 'Chapter Two' makes the sentimental journey without an excess of warm and fuzzy feelings.


Neil Simon's "Chapter Two" begins when recent widower George Schneider meets newly divorced Jennie Malone. He's a writer; she's an actress. Neither is interested in a committed--or any other--relationship.

You've already figured out the ending, so the play's entertainment value stems from following the two as they stumble along their way to the inevitable. Or in trying to figure out how closely the story parallels the real-life courtship of Simon and Marsha Mason. Sweet and frequently amusing, the play continues Thursday and Friday nights through Sept. 30 at Ottavio's Banquet Facility in Camarillo.

The action shifts back and forth between two Manhattan apartments as the audience meets George and his would-be matchmaker brother, Leo; then we visit Jennie and her friend, Faye. Leo suggests to his old flame Faye that George and Jennie date; Jennie and George both strongly reject the idea. The play would end rather abruptly at that point except that George accidentally misdials the telephone. High jinks ensue.

For those who tend to shudder at an excess of warm-and-fuzzy, there's a subplot where Faye, whose marriage is lacking excitement, considers an affair. What happens there is very funny and only the slightest bit fuzzy.

Director Martin Horsey nicely coordinates the romantic and farcical elements so that the juxtaposition isn't too unsettling, and a consistently capable cast helps immeasurably. J. Paul Vincent and Aileen-Marie Scott star as George and Jennie, with Bob Pusateri and Judy Weaver providing terrific comic relief as Leo and Faye.

(One slight problem at Friday night's show was Vincent's tendency to mumble during expository dialogue, although he was fine elsewhere--he should remember that, despite the intimacy of Ottavio's, the dinner-theater demographic tends to approach an age when hearing isn't necessarily all it used to be.)

Efforts to update the play--which was written in the mid-'70s--are inconsistent: George writes his novels on a computer, but he's still paying his analyst $50 an hour.


* WHAT: "Chapter Two."

* WHERE: Ottavio's Banquet Facility, 340 Mobil Ave., Camarillo.

* WHEN: Thursday and Friday nights at 7 through Sept. 30; additional performance Sept. 25 at 5:30 p.m.

* COST: $25 per person, includes show, buffet dinner, non-alcoholic beverage, tax and gratuity. Youths (12-19), $19.95; children to 12, $12.95. Senior citizens $22.50 Thursdays only.

* FYI: Open bar and wine available. Season tickets, group rates and fund-raising programs also available.

* ETC.: Doors open at 6:30 p.m., dinner served at 7; show begins after 8 p.m. Sept. 25 show, doors open at 5:30 p.m. For reservations or information, call 484-9909.

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