By Dale King
Anyone who thinks Neil Simon’s vast body of theatrical writing just doesn’t cut it anymore or doesn’t pack the same oomph it once did must see Plaza Suite — the final production of the season at the Delray Beach Playhouse. It will most definitely change their minds.
DBP has chosen one of Simon’s most enduring, albeit a shade dated, comic presentations to wrap up its 75th go-round.
It turns out the show is attracting lots of Simon fans. The four performances on opening weekend played to virtually packed houses —and at least one show was sold out. In fact, when I called the Playhouse a week before Plaza Suite debuted to get tickets, I was told there were just three left for the performance I requested.
So, I seized one of the last ducats and caught the show — a three-vignette performance Simon penned in the 1960s. It turned out to be a laugh riot that seemed to fully please the gallery.
The play is performed in its original three-act format. Each segment involves different characters, but the same actors, and all are set in Suite 719 of New York City’s Plaza Hotel. The play originally had four acts, one of which was cut during pre-production. Simon later expanded it for the 1970 feature film The Out-of-Towners.
To pump some real verve and comic pizzazz into this old saw, veteran director Randolph DelLago located two truly versatile, talented, tried-and-true performers — Michael Coppola and Helen Buttery — whose stage reputations precede them. He added their capabilities to the delightful dialogue and comic situations that Simon created decades ago and ended up crafting a show that delivers a worthy afternoon or evening of fun and entertainment.
The show has been around a long time. The original Boadway production opened at the Plymouth Theater on Feb. 14, 1968, and played 1,097 times, garnering three Tony nominations and winning best direction of a play for Mike Nichols.
In his three-part performance, Simon has truly saved the best for last. The most laugher-riddled segment — one festooned with loud arguing, yelling and loads of physical comedy — is “Visitor from Forest Hill.” Married couple Roy and Norma Hubley are about to celebrate their daughter’s wedding. But Mimsey (Sara Hope Tripp), in a rush of nervousness, has locked herself in the suite’s bathroom and refuses to leave. Her parents make frantic but futile attempts to get her out. Coppola steams with frustration. He butts the door and threatens to hit it with a chair. Buttery is tamer, but still upset.
Simon turns what could be a mundane indulgence into a three-alarm disaster. When Mimsey says she’s having second thoughts about marriage, Dad screams: “There’s no time for second thoughts. I spent $8,000 on the first thought.”
She finally exits — and the reason she does is a hoot.
Act I is seriocomic. Not-so-blissfully wedded couple Sam and Karen Nash are revisiting their honeymoon suite. She hopes it will rekindle their sagging marriage, but the relationship is clearly DOA. They disagree on practically everything including on how many years they’ve been married, the wife’s age or whether they stayed in Suite 719 or 819 during their honeymoon.
Clearly, Sam is more interested in his work, his well-toned body, his files and his business associates. When his secretary arrives with some “important business,” it’s clear their marriage is going nowhere.
The second act, “Visitor from Hollywood,” is a predictable, flat and not terribly funny seduction scene. Suburban housewife Muriel Tate visits her old beau, Jesse Kiplinger, now a Hollywood producer with a reputation as a smooth-talking ladies’ man. She vows to visit for just five minutes, but as she gets drunker, she stays longer. The outcome is blatantly obvious.
The incessant laughter from the audience during Plaza Suite can be attributed to the two fine lead actors. Major plaudits go to Coppola, who has performed in some 300 stage shows in his career. Recently, he was lead actor in Fun Home at Lake Worth Playhouse and played five separate roles in Marry. Murder. What? at the Willow Theater.
Buttery is also responsible for gaggles of humor. Her approach is kinder and gentler, but she can still get riled and infuriated when the situation demands. She has been an actress, techie and director at many South Florida venues and was one of the Calendar Girls in the shows at DBP.
Rounding out the cast are Tripp, who portrays Mimsey and Miss McCormack, and Hunter Isbell as the bellhop and Borden Eisler.
Of course, the play can’t happen without a set, and Plaza Hotel Room 719 is a finely crafted suite – a bit on the antique side with a fancy fireplace, dark wood furniture and diaphanous curtains covering windows that look out onto Central Park. Scenic Designer Cindi Taylor gets the credit for it.
Plaza Suite is playing through April 2 at the Delray Beach Playhouse, 950 NW 9th St. in Delray Beach. Tickets and can be purchased online at delraybeachplayhouse.com, or by phone at 561-272-1281.