By Jesse Bertel

Prepare for laughter as “The Prisoner of Second Avenue” opens at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 11, in the Studio Theater at Prescott Center for the Arts, 208 N. Marina St.

Penned in 1971 by Neil Simon, a globally celebrated playwright, the classic play remains relevant in its exploration of the challenges life throws our way. Follow Mel Edison through the unbearable summer heat, malfunctioning air conditioning, noisy neighbors and the uncertainties of his high-stress job. As the world around him gets weirder by the second, Edna, his loving wife, becomes a beacon of hope and sanity. But how long can their tranquility last?

“The Prisoner of Second Avenue” is not just a comedy, it’s a testament to the enduring strength of love and support between a husband and wife as they navigate life’s storms together — with, of course, a very big shovel. Director Frank Malle spoke with Across the Street ahead of the opening. The following interview was edited for length and clarity.

How does this compare with some of Neil Simon’s other works?

It’s not a stereotypical Neil Simon in any way. This has some serious undertones. He’s dealing with some very serious subject matter here. If I were to describe the storyline to you, it would come off sounding, you know, pretty depressing because it’s dealing with such serious issues like mental health, before that was a catchword as today, the character suffers a nervous breakdown, unemployment, urban angst. This takes place in New York City in 1970. So, it brings up the garbage strike and, you know, this strike and that strike, excessive violence, at that time, New York had the highest crime rate in the world. So, all these things are going on and just to throw in another dilemma, he brings up a nameless plot to destroy the middle class. But under Neil Simon’s, you know, craftsmanship and expertise, and with his comic one liners, it comes off as a very entertaining play, nonetheless. One critic said it was almost like watching Mel Brooks do Death of a Salesman.

What has been the hardest part of directing this play?

I did lose two actors. One had to bow out because of an injury she suffered, a head injury. And the other one just decided that it wasn’t his thing at the moment. So, just last week, actually, we found an actor. I was prepared to step in and take over the role if we couldn’t find anybody that could pull it off.

Catch the performances at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 11, 12, 13, 18, 19 and 20; and at 2 p.m. on Jan. 14 and 21, in the Studio Theater.

For more information and tickets, visit www.prescottartcenter.org.

Jesse Bertel is a reporter/videographer for the Prescott News Network. Follow him on Facebook @ JesseBertel, email him at jbertel@prescottaz.com, or call 928-445-3333, ext. 2043.

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