Onstage in Bedford’s production of Neil Simon’s “Plaza Suite” saves its best for last.
This 1968 play is actually a collection of three one-acts with the same setting: Room 719 in New York’s Plaza Hotel. In the first we meet a middle-aged couple, Sam (Jeff Burleson) and Karen (Erica Maroney), who are returning to the scene of their wedding night.
Karen’s idea is to celebrate their anniversary with a romantic remembrance of that night 23 (or was it 24?) years ago. But despite the wife’s best efforts, the husband is not buying into the plan. After pointing out that she has misremembered their wedding date and the room number, Sam announces that he must head back to work for an evening meeting. Karen smells a rat in the form of Sam’s secretary, Jean (Madyson Greenwood). She confronts him about his relationship with Jean, and a night that was supposed to be devoted to romance becomes something else altogether.
In the middle section, successful movie producer Jesse Kiplinger (Brandon Jackson) checks into Room 719 and invites his old high school sweetheart from New Jersey, Muriel Tate (Greenwood again), to drop by for a visit. The long-married Muriel is nervous about seeing her old boyfriend, who now hobnobs with the elite of Hollywood, and is uncertain about her feelings toward him. Jesse, on the other hand, is extremely sure of his intentions toward Muriel. Their time in the suite is an ever-shifting battle, where memories and emotions are deployed like weapons.
The final act showcases the stalled wedding of Mimsey Hubley (still Greenwood). The bride gets cold feet and locks herself in the bathroom, while her frantic parents, Ray (Robert Banks) and Norma (Susan Dergoul) pace and fret in the outer rooms. They also argue a great deal while trying to solve the crisis, and it begins to look like more than one union might be at risk as what should have been Mimsey’s biggest day spins rapidly out of control.
The strongest of the set is this finale. Banks and Dergoul are both wonderful, and play off one another beautifully. This portion is also the funniest of the trio, and the pair miss no comic opportunity as they ratchet up the chaos.
In the other two, the actresses shine, but the actors do not keep pace. Burleson does not match the script’s physical description of his vain businessman, and he is not as settled into his part as Maroney is with her complex character, which she reveals in all her colors.
In the movie producer segment, McCormick thoroughly constructs the bored housewife Muriel, and delivers a performance that is highly consistent and often hilarious. But Jackson is far less comfortable with his shallow, predatory producer. The program notes suggest that he is just not yet as experienced as his cast mates. And, given the quality of the actresses in this production, that is bound to show.
The direction by Ben Phillips is laudable for being straight ahead and focused on telling the stories of each act. The only quibble that can be made is that there might have been a little more imagination applied. And much the same could be said for the serviceable set designed by Michael Winters and Charlotte Newman.
Finally, the only real question mark about this show is Simon’s script, which was also the basis of the 1971 film of the same title. Although he is justly known as a king of stage comedy, only one-third of this script really delivers the laughs. The first two are basically about cheating spouses, and are sad or pathetic more often than they are funny. The movie producer act, for example, is sometimes as unpleasant as watching a cat and a mouse locked in a small cage. Despite its 1960s setting, this play is not nostalgic. It is just old.
So if you are a die-hard fan of Simon, you will probably want to see what Phillips and company have done with this chestnut. Even if you are not, the acting will be good enough to win the day for many patrons. But do not see this show and think of it as typical of Simon’s output. That famed crafter of comedies was probably trying to stretch himself by venturing into to some darker areas with this comedy. Like many dramatic and literary experiments, it does not always work.