Talented cast brings `Plaza Suite' to life

Stage: Pasadena Theatre Company's offering of the three-part New York comedy is sheer entertainment.


September 20, 2001|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Despite the tragic events earlier in the week, Pasadena Theatre Company opened its production of Neil Simon's Plaza Suite at the Studio Theater of Chesapeake Center for the Creative Arts on Friday evening as originally scheduled.

Although PTC's decision to open had been difficult, it seemed an appropriate way to honor the people of New York. The play is set in Manhattan's most elegant hotel and written by our nation's most prolific playwright, the quintessential New Yorker.

Before the performance, a memorial Yarzheit candle was lighted and silently passed among members of the cast and production staff in memory of the World Trade Center and Pentagon victims.

Simon's Plaza Suite originally opened in February 1968, starring Maureen Stapleton and George C. Scott, who were described as brilliant by critics who called the show "a wonderfully happy and gratifying evening of sheer entertainment." In 1971, the play was made into a successful movie starring Walter Matthau in all three segments, with Maureen Stapleton reprising her stage role.

Each of the three acts is a play in itself, focusing on occupants of the same suite at different times. The first act centers on Karen and Sam Nash, staying at the Plaza while their house is being painted, returning to what had been their honeymoon suite 23 years earlier. In the second act, thrice-married and -divorced, womanizing Hollywood producer Jesse Kiplinger waits in the suite for former girlfriend Muriel Tate, hoping to resume their high-school romance.

The third act centers on Norma and Roy Hubley, the parents of reluctant bride Mimsey, who has locked herself in the bathroom, ignoring their frantic requests to come out so she can attend her expensive wedding.

Director Robert Neal Marshall brings Pasadena's version to life with considerable help from his talented cast and production crew.

John Strawbridge, who directed previous PTC performances of I Hate Hamlet and California Suite, proves as adept at set designing, transforming Chesapeake's Studio Theater into a circa-1968 suite that reflects the elegance of New York's tony Plaza Hotel. Entering the theater, we find a charming entry area inviting us all to become Plaza guests.

In the first act, we meet Karen Nash, Sam's unappreciated, deceived wife, played by Bernadette Arvidson, whose comic delivery has the cadence and rhythm to make her lines sing. Arvidson blends vulnerability and wry humor into her irresistible Karen.

Rick Hall invests Sam Nash with a zest for battling any signs of middle age, a wavering affection bordering on indifference for Karen and a smoldering need for his secretary. Hall and Arvidson have great rapport and timing.

Stephanie Nevin has the requisite cool attractiveness and youth to convincingly play secretary Jean McCormack. Playing hotel staff are David Duvall and Paul Clary.

In the second act, we find the suite occupied by Hollywood producer Jesse Kiplinger, hysterically played by Marshall. His performance is matched by Nancy Dall's as Muriel Tate.

Both are adept at delivering lines that in some ways make each sound self-important, but at the same time reveal their underlying insecurities. Both are also astonishingly agile attracting and deflecting one another's amorous advances.

The third act is unrelenting Simon comedy, building on increasing frustration at a ridiculous situation. It opens with mother of the bride Norma Hubley phoning her husband Roy to help coax daughter and reluctant bride Mimsey out of the bathroom. As the bride's mother, Ellen Day is a study in comical disintegration, going from the perfectly groomed, elegantly dressed woman to one increasingly disheveled as her attempts to coax her daughter out of the bathroom end in failure.

As Chuck Richards' Roy grows more frantic, he gets funnier, until he is reduced to a sputtering hysteric. David Mahl has a walk-on part as groom Gordon Eisler. Linda Swann's Mimsey is not seen until she finally emerges from the bathroom.

Plaza Suite continues on weekends through Sept. 30, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 1 p.m. on Sundays. Call 410-636-6597.

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