The Prisoner of Second Avenue
Not all of Neil Simon’s plays are light-hearted romantic romps. This one was his attempt to write something dealing with a more sober subject: mental illness. Jack Lemmon is already getting stressed out by city living, the little things that add up to a constant state of frustration. Long-suffering Anne Bancroft, his wife, tries to help. Then Jack is fired from his job, and sinks deeper and deeper into depression, then paranoia, to the point she feels that she might be in danger from him. He spends his days idling, unable to find work, while she goes back to work as a production assistant. This doesn’t sit well with him, and he un-loads a full ration of sarcasm every time she comes home. Finally it becomes necessary to medicate him, turning him into an amiable near-vegetable. She is about to go crazy herself, as he is recovering. It ends on a hopeful note, though far from a happy-ever-after one.
As always, the dialogue is sparkling, even if the subject matter is dark. Jack and Anne are simply terrific, really sinking their teeth into the roles. I really can’t think of anyone, living or dead, who had a better sense of comic timing and the precisely best way to deliver a line than Jack Lemmon.