She starred in the film and was married to the author of Chapter Two for 10 years.
Today, playwright and screenwriter Neil Simon and actress/director Marsha Mason are no longer husband and wife, but Mason is directing the play at Bucks County Playhouse through June 15, and says she is thrilled to be doing so.
Chapter Two, a comedy about love the second time around, is about George Schneider, a successful writer mourning the recent loss of his beloved wife. When George meets a vibrant, recently divorced actress, Jennie, they begin a whirlwind courtship that leads to marriage. But can George put his memories aside?
Mason, a four-time Academy Award nominee who starred as Jennie in the film version of the play, directs this hilarious and touching story that asks if you can start a second chapter when you can’t totally let go of the first.
“The play actually follows Neil’s life and mine after his first wife died, except that there were two girls in the film that were vying for the hero’s attention. Eventually, I starred in the film and in real life, so I’m thrilled to be directing it this time around,” Mason said.
Mason’s first role, and the one she said that led her into this business, happened when she played a jack-in-the-box during her freshman year in high school.
“We played it for the grade school kids, and when I popped out of the box, all I heard was their oohs and aahs. So from then on, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life,” she recalled.
And since that realization, Mason has gone on to do stellar work on stage, in films and on TV. For example, on television, her credits include the wildly popular Frasier, for which she received an Emmy Award nomination, and the biopic Life with Judy Garland. Most recently, she was cast as Patricia Heaton’s mother in the ABC comedy series The Middle.
Her numerous theater credits include working coast to coast from San Francisco’s ACT Theater to Broadway, and even across the pond in London.
Mason, 71, said she enjoys both acting and directing. Later in June, she’ll return to the Playhouse to act in Ira Levin’s Deathtrap. But for now, she’s perfectly content wearing her director’s hat.
“Obviously, I know the material well and I also know the characters well,” she said. “So I can speak with excitement as to what it’s all about. I think that helps give the actors a sense of security as far as trusting me as a director. And as their director, I must fulfill the obligation of articulating all that the play requires, and also nudging the actors around the stage so they look good. So it’s a no-brainer, really.”
And when it comes to acting, Mason said as she’s gotten older she likes to be challenged professionally and personally.
“So I do look for challenges in the roles that are presented to me, but, of course, at this stage of my life I’m no longer considered a romantic lead, which is unfortunate.”
Off stage, Mason became a farmer in New Mexico where she produced organic medicinal herbs and flowers that went into a line of homeopathic beauty products called Resting in the River. She recently sold the farm and said she now feels much like a nomad, ”So, we’ll just see what happens in my next chapter!” she laughed. ••
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