By ALAN SMASON, WYES-TV Theatre Critic (“Steppin’ Out“)
It’s taken more than two years to finally open the revival of Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite at the Hudson Theatre, a show that was preparing to begin previews in 2020 when the pandemic set in and closed Broadway until recent times. With real-life married stars Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick set to star, there seemed to be a good chance the work would see lots of people checking into the Hudson for a night’s stay.
Simon was a master with words and nuance. His craft was honed in the post-war waning days of radio and the early days of the budding television industry, along with others like Larry Gelbart, Woody Allen, Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks. Writing for the small screen was a tremendous proving ground for “Doc,” a nickname he picked up as a boy.
After garnering success in three plays – Come Blow Your Horn (1961), Barefoot in the Park (1963) and The Odd Couple (1965) – Simon, who picked up a Tony Award for The Odd Couple, began crafting Plaza Suite, a work that allowed a single couple to portray three different scenarios taking place in the same hotel suite. The show opened on Broadway in 1968 and was directed by the legendary Mike Nichols, who won his third Tony Award. The strong original cast starred George C. Scott and Maureen Stapleton, both of whom were nominated for Tony Awards.
The challenge of Plaza Suite, which never enjoyed a revival until now, is that it must balance its highly comedic third act, which borders on farce, with the earlier two acts which contain higher levels of gravitas. It is a gemstone with many facets, but when displayed properly, can allow its actors to shine brilliantly.
Unfortunately, Doc’s gem needs a lot more polishing than it received from director John Benjamin Hickey in this outing. While both Parker and Broderick revel in the physical comedy found in Act III (“Visitor from Forest Hills”), there are several missteps in Act I (“Visitor fromMamaroneck”) and Act II (“Visitor from Hollywood”) that take away from what should have been a really promising night of theatre.
Problematic is the decision to play Broderick’s Sam Nash as more of a milquetoast than a bear. Perhaps, because they are a happily married couple in real life, Parker and Broderick attempted to mine the vein that suggested the couple is more in love than out of love.
Yet, Hickey should have seen the difficulty in making Sam Nash timid and weak. Simon’s dialog plays better with Sam as a conflicted, stronger figure who seeks fulfillment outside of his demanding job and marriage. After the protracted discussion between the two and his eventual confession, there should be only a small measure of uncertainty about his future with Karen. The act literally ends at the door for a reason. Sam knows he is making a conscious decision to walk through the door rather than stay.
Parker’s work in the first act as Karen, the ditzy wife who has trouble remembering numbers while holding onto the shambles of their romance, is truer to the character. But her performance in the second act does present some challenges for today’s liberated audiences. Set during the time of the sexual revolution, “Visitor from Hollywood” has Muriel Tate, a frustrated married woman with kids, visiting the hotel room occupied by her former New Jersey boyfriend, Jesse Kiplinger, now a successful film producer. Parker’s comedic performance as a woman on the make rings truer than Broderick’s portrayal of a Hollywood Casanova. who has gone through three wives in 17 years.
Simon suggests that despite Jesse’s success in Hollywood, he is still something of a New Jersey rube. Having been taken to the cleaners by his previous wives, there is a question about his being believable as a seducer. He seems to be reaching for more available, lower hanging fruit with Muriel, who needs only a bit of prodding and alcohol to prepare her for seeking her heart’s desire. The #metoo generation will probably find this act not to their liking, but given the era under which it was written, there is room to forgive Simon for glossing over the morality of the encounter and indulging in this very funny aspect of desire between the sexes.
Playing Jean McCormack, Sam Nash’s blonde secretary in Act I is Molly Ranson, who plays well against both Broderick and Parker. Danny Bolero plays the hotel waiter in both Acts I and II nicely and Eri Wiegand rounds out the cast as a bellhop in Act I and the bridegroom in Act III.
Parker and Broderick do soar in the third act, a romp that allows them to assume the roles of Norma and Roy Hubley, the mother and father of the mostly unseen Mimsey, the bride-to-be who has sequestered herself in their bathroom while a roomful of wedding guests anxiously await her presence in the hotel reception room below. Broderick milks the comedic role for all of its many possibilities,
That premise of a nervous bride and anxious parents still makes for an enjoyable comedy premise and Simon’s flowing language, Broderick’s comic pratfalls and Parker’s frantic pacing come together beautifully in the final act. The feeling is why couldn’t the same smart choices have been made in the previous two acts?
The elaborate set by veteran scenic designer John Lee Beatty is nicely rendered and the costumes by Tony Award winner Jane Greenwood are memorable. Lighting (Brian MacDevitt) and sound (Scott Lehrer) designs are also nicely rendered.
Previews for the Broadway revival of Plaza Suite by Neil Simon began on February 25, 2022. The show opened on March 28 at the Hudson Theatre, 141 W. 44th Street in New York. Directed by John Benjamin Hickey, the production also features original music by Marc Shaiman. The play is slated to run through June 26, 2022. Tickets are available by clicking here. For more information call 855-801-5876