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Upper East Side, Stage Left: Jason Alexander in 'Prisoner of Second Avenue'

Jason Alexander in "Prisoner of Second Avenue." Photo by Michael Lamont
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Yet another production of the ironically bittersweet Prisoner of Second Avenue, is playing in Los Angeles. Neil Simon's play lets audiences peer into a middle class and middle aged New York couple's living room to witness the rapid decline of their mental stability after facing personal and economic tragedy. In a smart differentiating move, the latest addition to this Simon storm has high production value and a talented cast led by a very animated Jason Alexander and spirited Gina Hecht at El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood.After his nine year stint as syndicated household name George Costanza on Seinfeld, it is easy to forget that Alexander is a bona-fide Tony award winning stage actor. But such notions are quickly dispelled as Alexander proves, despite the Seinfeld curse, that he is a just damn good, versatile actor. His tri-state accent and knack for conveying high-strung hysteria makes him a natural choice for the role of Mel Edison. Alexander's flawless performance is full of intensity, believability, warmth, humor, and compassion for Simon's characters. Hecht is a graceful and earnest Edna Edison that manages the seemingly impossible task of remaining both tangibly stable and utterly charismatic through her character's bouts of whiny disbelief. This production of Prisoner of Second Avenue features a capable supporting cast of Rob Orbach, Annie Korzen, DeeDee Rescher, and Carole Ita White with excellent timing and comedic chemistry. 

Under the tight direction of Glenn Casale, the show remains true to Simon's original 1970s setting, although the dilemmas  represented in the play are blatantly relevant today. The circumstantial context surrounding the Edison's is in many ways distinctly a New York City paradigm -- Casale directs knowingly, as though he and the cast of Prisoner of Second Avenue are intimately familiar with the excitement of surviving a gnawing, gripping urban environment. Accurate period set design by Stephan Gifford is a nice, understated, and atmospheric touch.

Prisoner of Second Avenue is playing through May 15, 2011 at El Portal Theatre. Tickets are available online or via phone at 866-811-4111 or 818-508-4200.