Theatre Review by Howard Miller - March 28, 2022
Plaza Suite. By Neil Simon. Directed by John Benjamin Hickey. Scenic design by John Lee Beatty. Costume design by Jane Greenwood. Lighting design by Brian MacDevitt. Sound design by Scott Lehrer. Hair and wig design by Tom Watson. Original music by Marc Shaiman.
Aha! Welcome to the Hudson Theatre and the revival of Neil Simon's Plaza Suite, pretty much a sure shot to sell those tickets and fill those seats, thanks to the popularity of its stars, married-in-real-life actors Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker. If there is a reason to see Plaza Suite, it lies in the seemingly wonderful time Broderick and Parker are having up there on the stage.
The show itself is made up of three separate short plays connected only by a shared set, a suite in New York's Plaza Hotel in the late 1960s. Designed for this revival by John Lee Beatty, the set is what you'd imagine a nice hotel space to look like, without being extravagantly luxurious or expansive. There is an area with a sofa, a couple of tables, several chairs, and two phones that become useful props, as well as a separate bedroom. Composer Marc Shaiman adds nicely to the overall tone by providing the evening's original music.
Taken as a whole, Plaza Suite is a gift to its lead actors, each of whom takes on three different roles, playing various hotel guests over the course of the two-and-a-half-hour production. Back in 1968 when the play first appeared on Broadway, those actors were the not-so-shabby George C. Scott and Maureen Stapleton. And while the production was quite successful, running for over two years, critics even then noted that it took rather a long while for things to gear up, only gradually building to a socko third act. Much the same can be said of the current production.
The least successful and the longest is Act I, called "Visitor from Mamaroneck." While it contains plenty of laugh lines, it is essentially a sad little story about a couple whose marriage of two decades is pretty much in its death throes, despite every effort by the wife to hold things together. The nice surprise here is Sarah Jessica Parker's portrayal of the wife, Karen. There is no hint of her "Carrie Bradshaw" character from "Sex and the City" as she throws herself into the role of a woman who wonders what has become of the young and happy newlyweds she remembers. No snarkiness intended when I say this, but she comes off more like "Edith Bunker," the character played by Jean Stapleton in the TV sitcom "All in the Family," a woman who works ceaselessly to keep a lid on tensions that are constantly arising in her home.
In Act II, "Visitor from Hollywood," Broderick plays a successful film producer who has returned to his home turf, on the rebound from marriages with "three of the worst bitches you'd ever want to meet." Ensconced in the suite, he sets forth to seduce his old high school sweetheart whom he has invited over to "talk about old times." Parker plays the old flame, wearing a long blonde wig and dressed in one of Jane Greenwood's costumes that looks like something the model Twiggy might have worn back in the day. For his part, Broderick is in the throes of ridding himself of his earlier stuffed-shirt performance, and he is quite comically ridiculous as the preening producer and would-be seducer.
But if there is a real payoff, it lies in Act III, "Visitor from Forest Hills." In it, Parker and Broderick play a couple whose about-to-be-married daughter has locked herself in the suite's bathroom and refuses to come out. The parents grow more and more frantic, worried about their daughter, the wedding guests downstairs awaiting the start of the ceremony, and their loss of face should she never come out. But really, the plot is just an excuse for an increasingly wild all-out slapstick comedy. Here, Broderick turns out to be the surprise of the evening, showing us a propensity for physical comedy and out-and-out wackiness that is as delightful as it is unexpected.
Truth be told, Plaza Suite is as old fashioned as they come, and Neil Simon wrote far richer plays than this one, among them the aforementioned Brighton Beach Memoirs, in which a young actor by the name of Matthew Broderick earned a Tony Award in 1983. But as a vehicle for Broderick and Parker, Plaza Suite is in very fine hands indeed and will absolutely appeal to their fans and to those nostalgic for the sort of stylish if lightweight comedy Simon excelled at writing.
On a side note, during the performance I attended, the roles of a bellhop and of the bridegroom who puts in an appearance in the final act were performed by Cesar J. Rosado, taking over from Eric Wiegand. Wiegand left for a time after testing positive for COVID-19. Here's wishing Wiegand a speedy and healthy return, and hats off to Rosado for stepping up to the plate.