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A CurtainUp Review
Neil Simon's Hotel Suite

Our theater doesn't exist any more. They're all revivals, and then they revive the revivals -- Diana in "Diana and Sidney" from London Suite

Leigh Lawson & Helen Carey
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Evenings of one-act plays seem to be multiplying at the rate of single socks in one's laundry. And so, why not an evening of one acts from Neil Simon's successful quartets of one-acters, each a different situation and each unfurling in the same hotel suite. With John Tillinger, to direct four capable actors, why not indeed a revival of excepts from Simon's much revived and memorably filmed Plaza Suite (1968), California Suite (1976), and London Suite (1994). Mr. Simon has made savvy choices for this re-assemblage of his popular trilogy of hotel stories and Mr. Tillinger has tastefully rebottled the newly combined old pieces. It's a "lite" summer spritzer, its flavor decidedly nostalgic and fluffy.

As in the past "Suites" this one blends bittersweet comedy with farce. In the first category, we once again meet two of his most endearing California Suite and London Suite,characters, Diana and Sidney -- she an actress, he a bi-sexual actor-turned antique dealer. In the first piece, there's a crisis in Diana's life -- the angst about the Oscar ceremonies which have brought her and Sidney to Hollywood; in the London postscript story, the crisis that reunites the now divorced couple eight years later centers on Sidney.

Counter balancing these bittersweet Cowardesque comedies (Coward's biographer Graham Payn noted that Suite In Two Keys suffered from a resemblance to Simon's hotel comedies) are two farces about a more ordinary couple, Marvin and Millie, reprised from Plaza Suite and California Suite. Their California marital misadventure (originally called "Visitor From Philadelphia") is prompted by a nephew's bar mitzvah and Marvin's desperate attempt to keep Millie from discovering his night of infidelity with a girl sleeping off the bottle of vodka she's consumed in the bedroom half of the suite. This "Rip Van Winkle of a hooker" (as Millie dubs her) was a gift from Marvin's brother and the father of the bar mitzvah boy). The alliteratively named couple turn up next at New York's Plaza Hotel, (from the Plaza group's "A Visitor From Forest Hills"). It's another family affair, the wedding of their daughter Mimsey, who has locked herself into the hotel bathroom threatening to turn the festive affair into a case of lots of Marvin's money gone down the drain.

Most audience members will be familiar with at least one or two of these pieces from their previous incarnation, but no matter. Simon's dialogue and his astute blend of comedic styles still have the power to tickle the funny bone, though it should be noted that the audience laughter is no longer quite so loud and continuous that you miss at least some of the funny stuff. Even those who may wish for something less recycled will appreciate Mr. Tillinger's savvy staging which reprises the affinity for Simon's work evident in his direction of the 1997 revival of The Sunshine Boys (linked below).

Helen Carey and Leigh Lawson mine Diana and Sidney for every smidgen of comedic and poignant nuance. Carey, whose performances have won CurtainUp's admiration, whether in Shakespeare, Shaw, or Boucicault, has more of the understated flair of Dame Judy Dench than Dame Maggie Smith whose filmed version of Diana is still remembered by many. Ms. Carey is beautiful but deliciously vulnerable as she worries about her appearance ("I look exactly like I'm going to look some day!") and the "Richard III" hump on the gown she's wearing to the Oscar Awards courtesy of producer Joe Levine. That hump, some fabric gathered into a flowerlike contraption at the shoulder, is this segment's visual sight gag and it gets the last laugh as Diana exits the room rehearsing her never to be given acceptance speech ("I have a lump in my throat -- and a hump on my shoulder"). Leigh Lawson too is more understated than his famous film predecessor Michael Caine. Yet his dry witticisms land with the required bang, even when obviously ailing in the second piece, he remarks "arent we lucky that something like this (lung cancer ) came along?" Sure, it's corny and almost quaint -- as it was originally, except that corny and quaint were more acceptable then.

Randy Graff and Ron Orbach handle the two farces with aplomb. Orbach's Marvin is all ham, more Jackie Gleason than Walter Matthau (the original Marvin). Graff's face is a map on which surprise, shock, disgust, anger and resignation register even when she doesn't say a word. And speaking of wordless parts, Amanda Serkasevich is a wonder as the drunken call girl in "Visitor from Philadelphia". If you think this is easy because she has no lines to master, just watch her rearrange herself on that bed and at one point snuggle up to Ms. Graff. Ms. Serkasevich actually does triple duty, also playing Diana's secretary and the altar shy Mimsey.

The text, except for Borden's "Chill Out" instead of "Cool It" in the wedding farce, is untouched. That leaves it to Mr. Tillinger to add something new to freshen up the old. Happily, he delivers. Without adding a line, he's introduced a group of young people to make the prop changes needed to accommodate Jim Noone's handsome sets part of the entertainment. (Mr. Noone had to make his own accommodations, shrinking our vision of a spacious suite to the constraints of the Gramercy Arts stage). These choreographic bits of business got as big a laugh as Simon's verbal and physical shtick.

Some afterthoughts: The Playbill cover for this production, a sketch of the Plaza Hotel with a Central Park view in the background and a giant Neil Simon lifting part of the roof and peeking inside a suite within, is one of the most fun I've seen in a while. And the fact that this new-old "Suite" comedy by one of our best-know playwrights is playing in an Off-Broadway house is par for the trilogy's course. Only the first, Plaza Suite, opened on Broadway ( with George C. Scott and Maureen Stapleton). That "Suite", incidentally, also had a core play which relied on an item of clothing as visual prop.

Reviews of other Neil Simon plays:
Little Me
The Odd Couple (Female Version)
The Sunshine Boys

Reviews of Neil Simon's Memoirs
The Play Goes On

Our review of the recent revival of Noel Coward's Suite In 2 Keys which has been compared to Simon's hotel plays. Watch for our reviews of Coward's one one act trilogies -- Tonight At 8:30 which are being given two separate productions at Williamstown Theatre Festival in the Berkshires (CurtainUp's Berkshire Page

by Neil Simon
Directed by John Tillinger
Cast: Helen Carey, Randy Graff, Leigh Lawson, Ron Orbach; with Charlie McWade and Amanda Serkasevich
Set Design: James Noone
Lighting Design: Kevin Adams
Costume Design: Theoni V. Aldredge
Sound Design: G. Thomas Clark
Running time: 2 hours plus one 15 minute intermission
Roundabout Theatre Company--
GramercyArts, 138 E. 27th St., (Lexington /3rd Avs), 777-4900 5/19/2000-9/10/2000; opening 6/15/2000

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 6/10 performance

©Copyright 2000, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
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