Prisoner of Second Avenue in Quebec City

Prisoner of Second Avenue in Quebec City

Sunday afternoon. Diffused sunlight filters weakly through the high gymnasium windows and onto the stage at Holland School where the Quebec Art Company is rehearsing. I’m here to try and write a piece about their current production; The Prisoner of Second Avenue. Sharon Macleod is playing one of the lead roles and she invited me to stop by. I don’t want to interrupt the cast as they go over their lines. I’m just going to set up my tripod and snap off a few photos.

Edna: Why are you having pains in your chest?

Mel: Because I don’t have a job! Because I don’t have a suit to wear. Because I’m having a God-damned nervous breakdown and they didn’t even leave me with a decent pair of pyjamas.

Sharon Macleod (Edna) and Mark Lepitre (Mel)

I’m intrigued and a little miffed for not doing a little research about this Neil Simon play before I got here. My pen rests in my hand, suspended above the page I’m supposed to be writing. I’m confused. When was this play written? It sure sounds familiar. Mel  Edison,  the  main  character,  has  just lost  his  job  after  many  years  and  now  has  to  cope  with  being  unemployed  at  middle  age.  Yup Mel, I’ve been there; those are tough times.

Mel: The garbage that we buy…$2 worth of food and it comes in $3 worth of packaging!

I doubt that Neil Simon thought his words would still ring as true today as they did when he first wrote them. I’ve often found myself lamenting over whether to buy the cheaper produce that has been protectively encased in Styrofoam and plastic wrap or the more expensive stuff that I’m going to have to bag anyway. I don’t even want to talk about the angst I have felt on Christmas morning when I have tried to separate a child’s toy from the tendrils of its sheltering strongbox.

Mel: God… God… God… God…
Edna: Mel?
Mel: Huh?
Edna: Can’t you sleep?
Mel: If I could sleep would I be laying here calling God at 2:00 in the morning?

I’m crouching off to the side of the stage and wondering to myself; how on earth have Lepitre and Macleod managed to memorize so many rounds of rapid fire repartee? Not only that, they have the facial expressions and energy to match. I cringed when Mark whipped a book across the stage; I was sure that he was going to bean someone standing in the wings.

Mel: I don’t know either where I am or who I am. I’m disappearing, Edna. I don’t need an analyst, I need Lost & Found!

If you are familiar with Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues, Lost in Yonkers and The Odd Couple you already know that Neil Simon’s comedies often examine the tensions that can arise among family members or between men and women living in New York. His play, The Prisoner of Second Avenue, is no exception. Mel (Mark Lepitre) and Edna (Sharon Macleod) struggle to survive New York City in the early 1970s while dealing with noisy neighbors, faulty plumbing, and unemployment.
The Prisoner of Second Avenue ran on Broadway from November 1971 until September 1973 for 788 performances, with Peter Falk and Lee Grant starring as Mel and Edna Edison, and Vincent Gardenia as Mel’s brother Harry. The play was nominated for the 1972 Tony Award for Best Play. The film version starring Jack Lemmon, Anne Bancroft and Gene Saks was released in 1975.  A 2010 West End revival starred Jeff Goldblum and Mercedes Ruehl.

So I guess that means that this play still has a lot of life left in it, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to suggest that you go and watch the Quebec Art Company ’s performance. You can watch your television. I am going to recommend that you go and experience a moment of live theatre. Why go all the way to Broadway? We have a little slice of the Big Apple right here, in Québec City.

Categories: Arts & Culture

About Author

Jason Enlow

Jason Enlow is a Special Education Technician at an English elementary school. He was born in Montreal, Quebec and grew up in Burlington, Ontario. Jason studied Radio and Television at Ryerson University in Toronto. His previous employers include CityTV, CBC, The Weather Network, and Global Television. He’s worked as a DJ, camera operator, musician, teacher, translator and video game content designer. Jason moved to Quebec City in 1997 where he still lives today with his wife and three sons.