Broadway Review: PLAZA SUITE (Hudson Theater)

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by Gregory Bernard on April 1, 2022

in Theater-New York

SUITE IS SWEET AND SOUR

Upon entering the Hudson Theater, glance to your left to see a notable collection of theater posters — not former productions at this lovely, classy venue, but rather the extensive, impressive contributions of master playwright Neil Simon. Has any single American playwright penned so many successful plays and musicals? With Plaza Suite, three individual plays are presented for the price of one. Mr. Simon created a clever way to present a variety of one-acts using the smart economics of sharing one set. All three take place in Suite 719 at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. Later in his playwriting career, the stratagem was repeated with California Suite and London Suite.

As the lush, forest-green curtain rises, the suite at the Plaza is at its peak of elegance, due to additional masters of their craft: John Lee Beatty (sets) and Brian MacDevitt (lights). Soon, Jane Greenwood‘s exquisitely delightful 1960s-era costumes, and Tom Watson‘s glorious variants of wigs aid in distinguishing the three characters each played by Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick.

The first piece, “Visitor from Mamaroneck,” was the most substantial, meaningful play. An older, married couple is staying at the hotel for either necessity (their home being painted) or to celebrate an anniversary — though the exact date and number of years are argued. When Parker and Broderick entered, I gasped — an older couple indeed! And not with the help of make-up. Granted, I hadn’t seen them onstage for a while, but I was shocked to see how they’ve aged since last I saw them. In fact, they read a decade older than the stated age of their characters (late 40s for her/early 50s for him). But what was right on target was their disappointment with time, marriage, and commitment skulking amongst the subtext and action of the play. Layered with the comedy on the surface, their performances were both funny and sad — in the same way that experts bring a Chekhov play to life. By intermission, I so respected and appreciated the perfect casting of Parker and Broderick as the actual older married couple with their own gossiped marital complications. (With this being the highest grossing show on Broadway this week, it’s clear patrons want to see the real married couple as much, if not more than Simon’s Mr. and Mrs. Nash.) Truly at the top of their craft, the darker, painful subtleties they brought to both their roles and relationship made for the best acting I’ve seen them pull off to date. And the closing moment of Ms. Parker alone onstage with a chilled bottle of champagne and two glasses was heartbreaking, theatrical gold.

After intermission, two more shorter one-acts are presented, but lack the power of the first. “Visitor From Hollywood” is a sprightly sketch that riffs off the same joke throughout. Nonetheless, it’s enjoyable to see Parker and Broderick lighten from the first play and introduce some playful, physical comedy.

Actor John Benjamin Hickey directs the playlets with three distinct styles, each getting broader and more physical than the previous. Yes, it’s enjoyable to see Parker and Broderick introduce some playful, physical comedy, but often it misses the heart and truth they fostered in the first half.

In the third and final “Visitor from Forest Hills,” the acting grows even broader with big comic double takes, mugging, and Harvey Korman-esque smirks indicating isn’t this funny. The farcical stage business of a desperate married couple trying to get their daughter out of the locked bathroom for her own wedding went all out and, unfortunately, all awry. As fun as it was to see Broderick out on the ledge of the hotel, fighting pigeons, followed by a rainstorm, the cartoon silliness lacks any heart or truth — which didn’t stop the audience from laughing or jumping to their feet at curtain call. I, too, stood, but mostly in honor of Neil Simon and all that he’s given us, even when a production is not as suite as it could have been.

photos by Joan Marcus

Plaza Suite
Hudson Theatre, 139-141 W. 44th St.
EXTENDED to July 10, 2022
for tickets, visit Plaza Suite on Broadway

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