Few playwrights have managed to make stressed out funnier than Neil Simon.
Audiences will have a chance to see why Simon is considered a comic genius when a production of one of his comedies is performed at the new Ziegfeld Theater.
"The Prisoner of Second Avenue" opens Thursday, Aug. 23, for a three-night run at the newly renovated theater in Ogden. The play -- about a man who comes unhinged after a series of Job-like misfortunes -- is produced and directed by Ogden resident Brian Wood, who with the help of his father has also been building the set for the show in his garage.
If that isn't enough to worry about, Wood is also starring in the play about the stressed-out guy.
"It has been kind of crazy," Wood said. "I'm going to be grateful just to keep the lines stuck in my head."
Wood grew up in Kaysville and graduated from Weber State University, where he studied musical theater and Spanish. He is joined onstage by Ogden actress Becky Hunt, who plays his wife, Edna.
The cast also includes Ryan Williams of Roy as Harry, Julie Olsen of Kaysville as Pearl, Diane Robbins of Ogden as Pauline, and Susan Wilhelm of Layton as Jessie. The cast has been rehearsing at Wood's home as well as another cast member's house.
Wood is a big fan of the play, which was first performed on Broadway in 1972. The play was nominated for a Tony for best play, and a film version later starred Jack Lemmon and Anne Bancroft.
Although he enjoys musical theater, Wood said plays offer actors the opportunity to dig a little deeper into characters. And when it comes to comedy and probing the foibles and quirks of the human condition, few do it better than Simon, whose work includes "Barefoot in the Park," "The Odd Couple," and the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Lost in Yonkers."
In the story, Mel Edison is a well-paid executive living in Manhattan when his comfortable life suddenly comes to a screeching halt. His wife has to get a job to help make ends meet, but then she loses her job. It's not bad enough that air pollution is killing Mel's plants, but he can also hear the neighbor's shenanigans through the walls of their Second Avenue apartment. Can things get worse (or funnier)? Of course, they can. This is a Neil Simon play, after all.
"Mel does the only thing left for him to do, he has a nervous breakdown and it's the best thing that ever happened to him," Wood said, noting that Simon has a gift for taking a grim subject and -- without losing sight of its basic seriousness -- treating it with sympathetic but laugh-out-loud humor.
With the state of today's economy, Wood noted that "The Prisoner of Second Avenue" remains a relevant story. Simon's comedic take on a serious topic may take off the edge and provide some laughs.
The show is also an opportunity for audiences to help out the Northern Utah Coalition in Ogden, which helps out people living with HIV and AIDS. Wood serves on the board of that organization and hopes proceeds from the production help offset cutbacks the organization is facing. Wood was involved in similar fundraiser last year in a production of "The Complete Wrks Of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged)."
He is excited to bring the show to the new theater, which opened earlier this summer, and suggests audiences come to check out the new venue.
"It's a great little space," Wood said. "I would drive past it before and would think it would be such a great thing to make it into a working theater. It's really good to have a place to do things that aren't always done over and over again."