Actors continue onstage relationship in Apple Hill Playhouse's 'Prisoner of Second Avenue'
It wouldn't be summer theater in Westmoreland County without a visit from everybody's favorite couple, Dennis “Chip” Kerr and Shirley Ratner, both of Greensburg.
Audiences might remember them as Norman and Ethel in last summer's production of “On Golden Pond” at Apple Hill Playhouse. This time around, they portray Mel and Edna in “Prisoner of Second Avenue,” again for the Delmont theater.
Denise Pullen, associate professor of theater at Seton Hill University, is directing the Neil Simon comedy and says the pair brings a special quality to the show.
“Their partner work is so much in sync, I sometimes just stand back and watch until they are ready for shaping and small details,” Pullen says. “Other times, we discuss emotional events in a scene or a moment, and together come up with a new discovery. They are wonderful collaborators.”
The story, set in the early 1970s, revolves around problems surrounding Mel Edison, a top executive of a high-end Manhattan firm who finds himself unemployed when his company fails. His wife, Edna, takes a job to help out, but the couple has to deal with an overload of stress that leads to chaos in typical Simon style.
“I think audiences will enjoy this play not only for the antics and classic contemporary comedy that defines Simon, but especially for the characters and situations they will recognize sitting on their sofas or at their dining room tables,” Pullen says.
Kerr relies on his chemistry with Ratner to get through a variety of emotions in the show.
“Onstage, we laugh, fight, cry, reveal, become vulnerable and share moments the same way that spouses do — and we feel safe doing that together,” he says.
“There is a great deal of trust that we share with one another. When you are the only two people on stage, that trust becomes very important.”
“Prisoner of Second Avenue” is the seventh show that Ratner and Kerr have done together as a couple. They are each in long-term marriages in real life, “so we have our own way of relating to and dealing with our spouses. I think I have called upon my experiences in my real marriage as background and motivation in dealing with Mel,” she says.
Ratner says theatergoers should love the comic elements of the play. And even though there are some dark and sad elements to the script, those will help the audience relate to the “realness” of the couple.
“For me, being able to relate and care about the characters is what makes for enjoyable theater,” she says.
Also featured in the cast are Randy Berner, Janet Robb, Mary Ferrara and Clare Ratway. William Smolter is the stage manager. Apple Hill's former costume consultant, Jack Kostelnik, who has worked in Paris, London and New York in the fashion industry, returns to help with this production.
Candy Williams is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.