PLAZA SUITEBy Neil Simon
Richardson Theatre Centre
Director – Rachael Lindley
Set Designer – Kyle Chinn
Choreographer — Jennifer Steele
Lighting Designer – Kenneth Hall
Sound Designer – Rusty Harding
Costume Designer – Rachael Lindley
“Visitor from Mamaroneck”
Karen Nash — Lise Alexander
Sam Nash — David Kelton
Bellhop/Waiter — Wade Byington
Jean McCormack — Katie Macune
“Visitor from Hollywood”
Jesse Kiplinger—Martin Mussey
Muriel Tate—Lorna Woodford
“Visitor from Forest Hills”
Norma Hubley — Deborah Key
Roy Hubley — Brian Hoffman
Borden Eisler — Wade Byington
Mimsey Hubley — Katie Macune
Reviewed Performance: 7/9/2022
Reviewed by Genevieve Croft , Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Set in the late 1960s, Simon takes audiences to a suite at the Plaza Hotel in New York City (Suite 719 to be exact) and presents three different vignettes with Suite 719 as the only common thread tying the three stories together. The first vignette (Act 1 “Visitor from Mamaroneck”) begins with elements of classic Simon and then takes a more serious and dramatic turn toward the end of the story.
In Acts 2 and 3 (“Visitor from Hollywood” and “Visitor from Forest Hills”) Simon transitions into the quintessential Simon formulaic comedy, with quick-paced dialogue and sight gags to further enhance the story. Simon was a meticulous joke-smith and his plays often focused on middle-class, urban life. Many of his plots are drawn from his own experiences. In these plays, you might see a group of characters and their journey from beginning to end (think “The Odd Couple” or “Barefoot in the Park”) and how they have changed throughout the narration of their story. In “Plaza Suite,” however, audiences are served three different courses, with only a short story. It is very quick-witted, and audiences are quickly able to latch on to each vignette’s plot.
Even though Simon hit his stride during the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, Simon’s plays continue to have relevance today. “Plaza Suite” has had a recent run on the Broadway stage. The production (starring Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker portraying all three couples) closes this week. A fun bit of trivia: The film, “The Out of Towners” was initially planned to be a part of “Plaza Suite” as a fourth Act. The idea was scrapped in pre-production and was retooled into a hilarious film in 1970 starring Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis. “Plaza Suite” was also adapted into a film in 1971, starring Walter Matthau and Maureen Stapleton.
Director Rachael Lindley brought together a small and talented ensemble cast that worked well together and collaborated with a crew who clearly took their jobs seriously and knit together design elements that enhanced the story being told by these eccentrically eclectic characters. The overall vision or the production was executed well. The reaction from the Saturday evening audience was certainly evident that the ensemble and the creative team collaborated well together and created a solid production. As a rule, audiences are usually very entertained by a Neil Simon work, and this was the case on Saturday evening.
Having only been to Richardson Theatre Centre once or twice a few years ago, I remembered that it was a smaller space, but I had forgotten how intimate the space was. Seating roughly 75 (give or take) seats. Sometimes, this can be a blessing and a curse. My first thought was “I can’t wait to see how they plan to create a suite at the Plaza Hotel” in the intimate space. My first visual impression of the space and the scenic design (designed with delicacy and functionality by Kyle Chinn) was impressive. Overall, the given space was used effectively and helped to tell the story. I enjoyed the little details present in the hotel suite (a simple array of Life Magazine from the 1960s, and a flower vase with changing floral arrangements). I was in absolute amazement when the audience was able to see it actually “rain” out the outside of the seventh-floor window. I enjoyed Chinn’s choices of color and texture. From the dreadfully fun 60’s mod green to the typical hotel suite drapes- the suite was functional for all three stories, and it drew me into the late 1960s.
The sound was designed by Rusty Harding. Harding made some excellent choices with song selections to help set the mood and atmosphere of the period. Sound Design can be one of the most fun or one of the most difficult to execute creatively. I believe music can make or break a production, allowing the audience to experience the setting, mood, and theme of a production. One specific song was “Summer in the City,” a late 60’s favorite from The Lovin’ Spoonful which helped capture the mood during the pre-show. It was nice to see something as simple as music make such a lasting impression on audiences when often it can be an afterthought in other productions. As an avid audiophile, I was greatly satisfied by the library of songs that Harding uses to time travel back to 1968.
In an intimate production such as this, every actor’s role is important to the story. The first vignette features Lise Alexander and David Kelton as Karen and Sam Nash. Karen has a romantic honeymoon redux planned for their 24th anniversary. When Sam arrives at the suite for the evening, his workaholic mood quickly dampens the enjoyable champagne and caviar that Karen has planned to help put the ‘romance’ back in their marriage. In one of Simon’s darker stories, Alexander and Kelton set the tone for some dramatic moments, peppered with moments of humor. The pacing was a little slow in this first vignette, but I might chalk that up to the difference in style of this story, and perhaps opening weekend jitters. But, as the scene wore on, pacing, timing, and energy picked up and Alexander and Kelton had some nice moments on stage. It is worth noting that Alexander and Kelton are reprising these roles from Richardson Theatre Center’s production of “Plaza Suite” in 2000. It is most impressive to see talented actors like Alexander and Kelton reprise these roles (that they enjoyed so much that they wanted to portray the roles again.)
In “Visitor from Hollywood,” famous Hollywood Movie Producer Jesse Kiplinger (Martin Mussey) invites former girlfriend (who is now married) Muriel Tate (Lorna Woodford) back home to have a romantic tryst in his hotel suite. Mussey and Woodford have wonderful comic timing. It was most entertaining to watch them get progressively more inebriated and romantically “handsy” as the scene goes on. It is evident to me that both Woodford and Mussey have a fun time on stage in these roles and are both enjoyable and humorous to watch.
The standout vignette in this production is “Visitor from Forest Hills.” This was a fantastic way to end the production. The comic timing was present, and there was excellent chemistry between Deborah Key (in the role of Norma Hubley) and her husband, Roy (played comically by Brian Hoffman.) In this vignette, Norma and Roy find themselves desperately trying to get daughter Mimsey (Katie Macune) to unlock the bathroom door and face the groom on her wedding day. The energy was high, and there was a huge air of enthusiasm for the funnier moments in the story. For me, Key and Hoffman were the most “Simon-Esque” with their portrayal of the flustered, and exasperated parents of the bride. I got a kick out of seeing Hoffman’s reactions with Key as he climbed out on the ledge of their suite in the attempt to go in through the bathroom window when suddenly it started to rain. With his face pressed up against the glass I couldn’t help but laugh. Hoffman and Key have fantastic facial expressions and carried the comedy from beginning to end with great finesse and ease. They never faltered in their delivery, and their chemistry is phenomenal.
The best moment of the entire production was a simple scene change executed by ensemble members Wade Byington and Katie Macune. Dressed as a Plaza Bellhop and Hotel Maid (respectively) Byington and Macune were staged to execute the scene change similar to old slapstick comedy films of the 1960s. Without any dialogue, and relying solely on playful and amusing facial expressions, Byington and Macune were hilarious. I especially appreciated adding another bit of comedy to help transition from one act to another. They moved quickly and got the job done while giving audiences something unique and entertaining to watch when normally audiences are taken out of the moment.
This production of Plaza Suite is worth seeing. Whether you are a novice or veteran theatergoer, Plaza Suite is certainly one you need to add to your repertoire of productions. Everyone should be introduced to the comedic master Neil Simon. Overall, it was an entertaining production. There were some noticeable problems with pacing and energy, but I am confident that these will be resolved as the production gains momentum and gets further into its’ production run. I encourage you to take a trip to Richardson Theatre Centre and see Plaza Suite. It is the perfect way to spend these hot Summer nights and provides a laugh or two that will benefit everyone. Hurry and see “Plaza Suite,” at Richardson Theatre Center-check-out time will be July 24th.
Richardson Theatre Centre, 518 W. Arapaho Road, Ste 113, Richardson, Texas 75080
Plays through July 24.
Thursdays at 7:30 pm
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm
Sundays at 2:30 pm