IF YOU GO
What: Neil Simon comedy about three different couples who meet in room 719
When: 8 p.m. Wed. - Sat.; 3 p.m. Sun. through Nov. 25
Where: 1055 N. Collier Blvd. Marco Island
Cost: $25 & $23
Information: Call 642-7270 or themarcoplayers.com
Something Else: The theater is located in the Marco Town Center Mall directly across from the Crazy Flamingo restaurant.
On the Web: More theater news at The Stage Door blog
MARCO ISLAND — "Welcome to the Plaza."
A uniformed doorman greets patrons outside the Marco Players Theatre where Neil Simon's "Plaza Suite" is on offer. Smart suit, gloves and shiny brass buttons whisk audiences into another world - one with bickering couples, smart words and copious laughter.
Director R.E. Joyce tackles this triptych for the Marco Players. Simon's play covers three unrelated stories, all of which take place in Suite 719 at New York City's 20-story luxury Plaza Hotel. Marriage, divorce, affairs, weddings, seduction and scandal - it is all there. Plus some liquor, anchovies and lean roast beef!
The show can be done with as few as four actors; one pair plays the major roles in each scene, while another duo takes on the various bellhops, waiters and supporting characters. The Marco Players opted for 10 actors spread across the three scenes; Brandon Anderson pops up in minor parts in all three.
Joyce gives each segment its own flavor, allowing the actors to feel their way into the material. He favors comedy in each piece; it proved a solid choice as Wednesday's boisterous, sold-out opening-night crowd howled with glee. If the scenes used the same actors, the show could veer from marital drama to seduction to outright farce, allowing actors to display their range.
The show moves along at a good pace. Joyce and his cast deserve plenty of credit there; Simon prefers patter over plot, a fact that can be deadly in the hands of an inexperienced cast. Laugh lines hit, jokes fall. There's also evidence of small touches (Mai Puccio's exaggerated limping, Carl Back's sleazy leer) that show the actors and directors spent time working on characters - not just memorizing the lines and learning how to avoid the furniture.
I understand the choice for comedy - and the Marco Players aim to fill seats and put a variety of amateur actors on stage, not experiment with art. I also applaud their choice in using a quartet of high school students and recent graduates in the walk-on roles. Yet, I do wish that there was simply "more" there. Simon plants hints of themes - loneliness, marital discord, feeling disconnected - in each segment. By going for laughs, the production pleases audience (and does a fine job), but perhaps misses a chance to ask patrons to look at their own lives and relationships.
The shows were coyly arranged so that their basic themes - discord, renewal, rebirth - mirrored the seasons of winter, spring, early summer. The fashions subtly respect this, although there's no "weather" in the show and the scenery in the rear window doesn't change (Central Park remains green even in "winter.")
The opulent hotel suite set, from Jim Swanker (design), Jan Weiss (decorator), Ginny Kane (properties) and Asquit White (painting) feels like an extra character in the show. The tiny space accommodates a sitting room and bedroom with ease - and manages to look luxurious while doing so.
While the actual Marco Players stage would be dwarfed by a real suite at the Plaza, a palette of creams and neutrals layered with subdued metallics in shimmering bronze, gleaming silver and pale gold beckons with richness. The choice of colors proves key; heavy reds or greens might have shrunk the space. Luxurious drapes frame views of the New York skyline and of Central Park. A clever wall indentation adds critical space and gives the illusion of a bed canopy. On-stage lights did flicker at strange times on opening night. Perhaps New York was in the throes of yet another nor'easter?
Act One - Visitor from Mamaroneck
Mai Puccio waltzes off with the first act as bored, dispirited Westchester housewife Karen Nash. Drawn to the Plaza and Suite 719 with hopes of rekindling some honeymoon magic, Karen discovers three things. She got the date wrong. She got the room wrong. And her husband's secretary is in the lobby with some "papers to sign."
Puccio veers from playful to petulant at the closing of a door. While the marital drama in the script isn't realistic or riveting, she and an amusingly obtuse Ray Kane (Sam Nash) convince the audience that these two people did love each other, at least once upon a time. I love their exasperating sighs and awkward facial expressions.
Look for ingenue Lisa Lang in a dynamite leopard coat and va-va-voom dress. Her "hard working" secretary does more than fetch files and coffee.
Act Two - Visitor from Hollywood
My personal favorite, if only for Angela Hinton's inspired costuming and Peter Galluzo's hair/makeup design. Carl S. Back breathes swinging '60s life into smooth-talking movie producer Jesse Kiplinger. The actor grew a bushy mustache, then dyed his blonde hair a vivid red to play the role. The unexpected transformation helps sell the slightly unseemly story of a long-ago boyfriend who calls up his Tenafly, New Jersey high-school girlfriend for a clandestine "drink" at the Plaza.
Back and Michelle Egan Langlas (Muriel Tate) play the scene strictly for laughs instead of an extended seduction. While Jesse has one thing on his mind, Muriel has five or six - vodka stingers that is.
Langlas allows the audience to see Muriel's adroit escapes from Jesse's clever flirting, while Back keeps his could-be-sleazy character just on this side of used-car salesman charming. Their strained banter feels natural - and the laughs roll forth at Muriel's drinking or Jesse's facial expressions.
Both actors seize their opportunity to deliver one of Simon's major monologues. Back gives an emotional (and hilarious) appeal for simple human kindness as he describes how Jesse's wives deceived him. "Nobody takes twenty-seven thousand dollars worth of Spanish guitar lessons!" Of course, Jesse follows this by quietly drawing the drapes, opening the door to the bedroom and locking the door.
Langlas finally slips (8 vodka stingers - I'm shocked she's even speaking!) and let's Muriel's unhappiness show. Her "good marriage" is a sham; she's followed every scrap of news about Jesse for years. The couple embraces as Jesse whispers details of his last Oscar party and the celebrity attendees to Muriel. She's desperate to escape her suburban boredom for the glitz of LA; he's desperate to escape LA for someone quiet. And they've found each other.
Act Three - Visitor from Forest Hills
Michael Hennessey and Marilyn Hilbert ham it up in this over-the-top tale of Queens parents facing an impending wedding with a distraught daughter locked in the bathroom. Wednesday's crowd roared right over the dialogue in multiple places.
Hilbert continues to grow as an actress; especially when she's paired with Hennessey. Her fluttery, fidgety Norma Hubley makes a perfect contrast to Hennessey's bellicose, bellowing Roy Hubley. She tries to sweet-talk incalcitrant Mimsey (really?) out of the bathroom. He tries to break the door down. Neither succeeds, although Norma gets a run in her hose and Roy "breaks" his arm. Both facial expressions and pained sighs of exasperation are perfect. I love their on-stage chemistry.
This segment features the silliest stunts, including toilet-paper messages, a man-on-the-ledge moment and an out-there mother of the bride hat. Both veterans hit their marks beautifully; you'll want to hear Hennessey's New York honk all night, or watch Hilbert squawk about her oncoming heart attack and laugh at her airs and graces. Make sure you catch the dated reference to credit cards as a "charge plate" and giggle at how little a wedding cost back then!
"Plaza Suite" might be paper-thin and the 1969-era writing a touch dated, but sometimes you just like a nice Neil Simon, you know. It really doesn't matter that the message gets lost amidst the giggles; the tales of Suite 719 bring hoots, chuckles and smiles. I laughed. You will too.
Have you ever stayed at the Plaza? Email me, firstname.lastname@example.org. Email me, email@example.com, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.