A number of reflections can be made on the stories of Neil Simon. Notably, that he succeeds in presenting tragedy so comically, or in displaying levity so seriously. The Oscar and Tony acclaimed stage and screen writer of the Twentieth Century has revisited themes of domesticity throughout his career, simultaneously embracing realism and humour along the way.
His 1968 play bears two hours in the lives of three couples, set in one suite: the New York Plaza Hotel. Riding on values of tradition and, disputably, old fashion, Plaza Suite provides an insight into life of a preceding generation, where the cliché of an affair with the secretary is well established, a Hollywood mogal is a housewife’s dream and marriage is as ever, a looming prospect. As a young(er) person, seeing BLT’s cast perform Plaza Suite feels like watching parents having an argument in the kitchen; though it is feasibly delightful to the audience, who adhere to Simon’s convictions and farcical script in chortles.
BLT actor and Plaza Suite director, Paul Campion, charges the production with Simon’s fundamental aims, suitably depicting the conflict that only exists between men and women. Confined to one room, which somehow centralises with each act, Campion demonstrates a well devised capability in bringing Simon’s characters to life. He understands the playwright’s need to represent real people with simple, yet important issues and succeeds in providing the audience with a cosy experience in vision and sound.
Inescapably, the production drags for the first hour. The opening act sees Karen Nash (Debbie Griffiths) hysterically calm and popularly rendered as the disillusioned, wise-cracking wife of Sam (David Griffiths), who duly confesses to a suspected affair; Debbie Griffith’s maturity is displayed majestically, while a distracted, Richard Gere-type Sam sulks in the corner. Play number two is picked up by fame-obsessed, cœur-curious Muriel (the brilliant Julie Binysh), who indulges in a dalliance with lionised Hollywood producer, Jesse Kiplinger (Steve Williams), hilariously boosted by ‘stingers’. Both (Debbie) Griffiths and Binysh elevate the production’s comedic value and its female power play, alluding to Simon’s compassionate depiction of female characters. The show is undoubtedly stolen in the last story by Mr and Mrs Hubly, played by Bob Etherington and Katrina Pancucci. Roy and Norma are a magnificent couple, and Etherington and Pancucci’s onstage partnership is captivating, despite the play’s toiling labour. Individually, the two actors are gratifyingly hilarious; Etherington nails the role of the overtaxed, under-bossed father of the bride and Pancucci is rather charmingly vampish. Ultimately the play is recognised as it crescendos, encompassing terrific and natural portrayals of intimate lives.
Plaza Suite, like most of Simon’s stories, is a play of real people, with real issues. The BLT cast are tremendously strong but there is no doubt that the heroes of the night are the ladies. Life is funny and life is sad, and Campion re-tells it well, although durably.
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