Despite mixed reviews of its time (1970’s) The Prisoner Of Second Avenue has much to offer modern audiences, and Kym Clayton’s production of the play makes that perceptively clear.
The plot concerns a middle-class man Mel Edison (Andrew Clark) who lives in a small New York apartment with his wife Edna (Sharon Malujlo), and who has just been fired without apparent reason after working for the company for twenty odd years. Mel and Edna struggle to survive in a world that Mel believes is conspiring against them. He hears these political arguments on radio bulletins and so makes assumptions that they are correct. To make matters worse, Mel undergoes a nervous breakdown, which forces wife Edna to get a job.
New York in this period was going through much turmoil and economic hardship not unlike perhaps conditions today and Clayton’s production highlights this theme of the protagonist Mel struggling to find a place in a declining corporate world.
The story is set in a cramped 14th floor New York apartment, decorated with 1970’s orange walls, designed by Trisha Graham which worked well on the narrow Domain Stage. At the back of the room we can see that the apartments around them are higher than Mel’s and Edna’s which of course only exacerbates Mel’s depression brought on by the loss of his job, the on again off again water, bad food, a robbery, a city wide garbage strike and other nagging, numerous domestic breakdowns. We follow Mel and Edna’s fight against the forces that they feel are operating against them.
Andrew Clark and Sharon Malujlo, with (almost) impeccable Bronx accents are each at the top of their game as they deal with distractions that to us may seem petty but to these two are accumulating and crushing them. We laugh at their rapid-fire dialogue, yet our laughter is tinged with darkness. Will they survive the almost daily domestic crises that seem to dog their every move? Andrew and Sharon work wonderfully well together, seeming to spark off each other with consummate skill. Here we have two experienced performers under the steady hand of expert director Clayton.
With help from their family, brother Harry (Harry Dewar), and widowed sisters Pearl (Ashleigh Merriel), Pauline (Anita Canala) and Jessie (Leanne Robinson) Mel and Edna decide they can fight the world together. These four members of Mel’s family are not introduced by the playwright until the second part of the play which makes for a rather odd plot construction. We don’t see a great deal of these characters who eventually help Mel and Edna, and who provide some clever comedy while helping their brother. However their discussions (in not such impeccable accents) as to how they shall recompense Mel and Edna provide more laughs. The four family members also work well together with Mr Clayton melding his performers into a strong ensemble.