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Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite Tickles the Funny Bone at The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
June 16, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times 

Bernie Engel as Roy Hubley escorts Elynia Betts as Mimsey Hubley to her wedding - photo credit to Matthew Randall

Bernie Engel as Roy Hubley escorts Elynia Betts as Mimsey Hubley to her wedding – photo credit to Matthew Randall

Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite is a series of three vignettes set in Room 719 at New York’s famed Plaza Hotel.  For this production Director Shawn g. Byers has chosen to represent three different eras throughout the hotel’s hundred-year history changing decors for each period.  To set the mood and showcase the hotel’s glorious past, vintage photos of celebrities living it up in the hotel’s famed Palm Court and Oak Room are projected across the stage while music of the era plays in the background.  It opens with the lovely lilting voice of songstress Alicia Keyes.

It is 2007 and Karen Nash (Amy Solo) greets her workaholic husband.  Though he doesn’t recall, it is their anniversary and she has excitedly booked the same room where they honeymooned.  Though they don’t even agree on that.  “We’re some lousy couple,” he concedes.

Amy Solo and Jack Stein as wife and husband Karen and Sam Nash celebrate their wedding anniversary at the Plaza Hotel - photo credit to Matthew Randall.

Amy Solo and Jack Stein as wife and husband Karen and Sam Nash celebrate their wedding anniversary at the Plaza Hotel – photo credit to Matthew Randall.

Preoccupied with her age and weight, she has become a doormat to her svelte husband, Sam (Jack B. Stein), pardoning his insults and ignoring his foibles while they bicker and flatter with equal measure.  Enter the sexy secretary, Jean McCormack played by Michelle Sumner.  She drops by with “important” papers for Sam to sign, but with a suggestive tossing of her locks lets us know what’s up between them.

Michelle Sumner as Jean McCormack and Jack Stein as Sam Nash - photo credit to Matthew Randall.

Michelle Sumner as Jean McCormack and Jack Stein as Sam Nash – photo credit to Matthew Randall.

If you think this is a clone of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, you may not know Simon, a playwright fond of exploiting everyday human frailties with a massive dose of one-liners, sarcasm and slapstick more akin to the Marx Brothers and their style of physical comedy.

The second act takes place in the 1960’s.  Photos of the Beatles, the Rat Pack and that most celebrated of all couples from the jet setter days Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, blaze across the stage.  Slick Hollywood producer, Jesse Kiplinger (Richard Isaacs), tries to reignite a high school romance with 30-something Muriel Tate (Shelagh Roberts).  Fueled by multiple vodka stingers and Muriel’s single-minded fascination with gossip about Jesse’s movie star cronies, an elaborate cat-and-mouse game ensues with the Lotharian Jesse trying every trick in the book to stop Muriel from leaving.

Richard Isaacs as Jesse Kiplinger romances Shelagh Roberts as Muriel Tate - photo credit to Matthew Randall.

Richard Isaacs as Jesse Kiplinger romances Shelagh Roberts as Muriel Tate – photo credit to Matthew Randall 

The final act references suite 719 at the turn of the 20th century – the hotel’s centennial.  The very Victorian Norma Hubley (Anne Paine West) and husband Roy (Bernard Engel) have booked the Plaza’s Grand Ballroom for a posh wedding for their daughter, Mimsey (Elynia Betts).  But the young woman has locked herself in the suite’s bathroom with a fierce case of wedding jitters.  “Think about my life,” Norma pleads to her daughter through the keyhole.  “Your father will kill me!”

Anne Paine West as Norma Hubley and Bernie Engel as Roy Hubley explains their daughter’s wedding day jitters to fiancée Bordon Eisler played by Erblin Nushi - photo credit to Matthew Randall.

Anne Paine West as Norma Hubley and Bernie Engel as Roy Hubley explains their daughter’s wedding day jitters to fiancée Bordon Eisler played by Erblin Nushi – photo credit to Matthew Randall.

In the film version Walter Matthau played all three male leads, and you will see echoes of his bumbling everyman style in Roy Hubley, whose approach to Mimsey vacillates between sweet talking to pounding down the door.

Set Designer Marian Holmes along with Set Dresser Larry Grey nail the changing décor of Suite 719, complementing the vintage “mod” fashions designed by Heather Norcross and Ashley Adams Amidon.

The entire ensemble gives solid performances throughout, delivering a tidily crafted version of the long-running Broadway show.

Through July 5th at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 683-0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com

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