CEDAR FALLS – J’Kalein Madison confesses he’s a bit intimidated offering suggestions to well-known performers Gary Kroeger and Kristin Teig Torres. Madison is directing his first staged dramatic reading, the Neil Simon comedy “The Prisoner of Second Avenue” for the Cedar Falls Community Theatre.
There are readings at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Oster Regent Theatre.
“It’s scary. These are consummate professionals and the amount of years they both have as professional actors is more than the years I’ve been alive,” the 23-year-old Madison said with a laugh.
“Now I’m telling them what I want them to do. At the same time, they’re so professional to work with and provide me with insight and help me articulate my thoughts and present ideas of their own. That makes it fun and exciting,” he explained.
“J’Kalein, intimidated? He sure doesn’t show it,” said Kroeger. “He is such a pro that I’ve been intimidated, hoping to measure up. I’m not kidding.”
Neil Simon’s slice-of-life comedy earned three Tony award nominations and became a movie in 1975 starring Jack Lemon and Anne Bancroft. It’s the story of middle-aged Manhattan executive Mel Edison, who lives on Second Avenue with his wife, Edna. His company folds, and he is left unemployed. Adding to his troubles are noisy neighbors, an apartment burglary and his psychiatrist dying with $23,000 of Mel’s money that he can’t get back.
“Gary and Kristin (as the Edisons) are 75 to 80% of the show. Their stamina and their chemistry has been there from day one. They play a married couple so well, you don’t know if they’re acting or serious. They have this playful bickering they do already in real life, and they do it so well as the married couple in the play,” Madison said.
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“The entire cast is great, but I have a personal history with and affection for Kristin,” Kroger said. “We are, in fact, like an old married couple on stage after five or six shows together.”
Other actors taking part in the reading are William G. Dawson, Jean Carlisle, Julie Petersen and Fran Guild, all veteran performers.
Madison praised his cast. “They’re so skilled that they’re willing to try different things and go with a crazy idea I might have, and they explore on their own. I want to maintain the integrity of a staged reading, but make it entertaining so audiences will enjoy the experience,” the director explained.
Kroeger agreed. “A play reading is a different experience precisely because, like an old radio program, the environment is not seen and has to live in the vocal performance. Everyone involved is being tuned by J’Kalein’s exquisite ear. We are having a blast. And I don’t have to memorize anything!”
Madison made his stage debut at Waterloo Community Playhouse in “The Full Monty,” followed by a turn as huckster Bert Healy in WCP’s “Annie.” At CFCT, he appeared in “Calendar Girls” and was an assistant director for “Nana’s Naughty Knickers.”
He is a 2014 graduate of Waterloo West High School where he performed in school productions and competed in state speech and theater contests, as well as the All-State Music Festival.
Now he is an account manager at KWWL-TV, where he was formerly a master control supervisor.
Although Madison won’t say “no” to future acting gigs, he’s ready to focus on directing. “I’ve whet my whistle with directing, so I’m hopeful CFCT will have me come back for a bigger production next year,” he added.