Pasadena's `California Suite' a charming visit

July 29, 1999|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

If you check into "California Suite," as depicted by the Pasadena Theatre Company, you will find fascinating company among the guests in Rooms 201 and 203 of the Beverly Hills Hotel.

Neil Simon's characters are amusing, wise, witty, touching, and introspective as they explore past and present relationships with friends, lovers and mates.

The first segment, "Visitor from New York," is classic Simon with Hannah's put-downs of former husband Billy, once a New Yorker, now a youthful and fit Californian.

Carolyn Crawford's Hannah is a confirmed hard-bitten New Yorker, gradually revealing a selfless concern for her teen-age daughter, who seems to prefer life in California with her father.

As Billy, Keith Thompson conveys alternating sympathy and restraint toward his former wife, who knows where to direct her gibes.

Thompson is expert at revealing Billy's vulnerability and concern for his daughter. Both actors portray a vestigial affection and respect that softens their barbs.

The second vignette, "Visitor from Philadelphia," is situation comedy verging on slapstick. In town for his nephew's bar mitzvah, Marvin awakens to find himself in bed with a drunken prostitute. When his wife, Millie, appears at the door, Marvin tries to conceal the prostitute.

In less competent hands the role of Marvin could degenerate into pure slapstick. But Chuck Richards invests such enormous energy and artful timing into the role that he makes it a hilarious tour de force. Judi DiCarlo as Millie is Richards' worthy partner, revealing strong comic timing of her own.

Scene three, "Visitors from London," is the strongest segment dramatically and the one that Simon rates among his best short writing.

British actress and Oscar-nominee Diana has come to Hollywood with her husband, Sidney, her insecurities buried beneath a mantle of English theater background. The couple's banter reveals a comfortable and dependent relationship.

Preparing for the Oscar ceremony, Diana voices concern about her dowager's hump, accentuated by a costume that she says makes her look like the "Titanic in chiffon." Sidney responds with a cheery reminder that she can become Richard III.

After Diana returns without the Oscar, her embarrassment and self-loathing are palpable as she turns her anger on her husband's homosexuality.

As Diana, Elizabeth Lasner is brilliant, self-absorbed and ambivalent, executing abrupt mood swings, alternating in annoyance and affection for her husband. Victor Carr gives a touching portrait of Sidney in a less demanding role.

The fourth vignette, "Visitors from Chicago," focuses on the deteriorating friendship of two couples sharing a weekend of athletic and other challenges. Friendship turns to fury as the two men end up attacking each other.

Craig Miller as Stu, and Frank Antonio as Mort are impressive as they spar verbally and physically.

Pasadena Theatre Company director John Strawbridge has done a commendable job of drawing fine performances from a talented cast.

Strawbridge also served as set designer and added continuity to what are essentially disjointed one-act segments. He had help in coordinating the scenes from Wayne Shipley, head of set construction, and from Gary Wheeler, who used video skillfully to set the scenes and tie segments together.

Pub Date: 7/29/99

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