America’s most prolific playwright, Neil Simon, will be in residence at Ambler’s Act II Playhouse via the company’s production of HOTEL SUITE, which runs from February 18th to March 23rd (extended). This pastiche of scenes from previous Simon works is perfect for Act II’s intimate stage—you can catch every little nuanced bit. Simon has long been a favorite of regional theatres because his works are just plain funny. Audiences love his characters and the crazy situations he puts them in. And this grouping is no exception. As previously stated, HOTEL SUITE is a compilation of sketches from three of his plays: PLAZA SUITE, CALIFORNIA SUITE AND LONDON SUITE.
Directed by Matt Silva, Act II has tapped Tony Braithwaite, Leonard C. Haas, Tracie Higgins and Karen Peakes to play the two couples featured in these four playlets—with terrific support from Janet McWilliams in a series of supporting roles. First up are Peakes and Haas as Diana and Sidney Nichols—originally featured in CALIFORNIA SUITE. It is 1975, we’re in Beverly Hills and Diana is dressing for the Oscars. She’s up for best actress and she is in total panic mode; Sidney attempts to keep her calm—unsuccessfully. Peakes and Haas play beautifully off of each other, bringing a real poignancy to this couple’s convoluted story. Both performances are grounded in reality, yet garner great laughs. We meet them again in Act II almost a decade later (this scene was originally part of ); now it’s a hotel room in London. Diana is a successful TV star in the US and Sidney is living with his lover on Mykonos in Greece. Their old bantering pattern soon falls back into place, but this time things get much more serious. These two talented performers leave you rooting for their characters in spite of the difficulties.
The other duo on hand is Marvin and Millie Hubley (played by Braithwaite and Higgins) whose situations are much more slapstick farce. In Act I, we’re in California still, and it’s 1975 again. The Hubley’s have taken separate flights west to attend Marvin’s nephew’s bar mitzvah, with Marvin arriving the day before the big event. He wakes up, hung over, to find a girl passed out in his bed. Before he can get rid of her, Millie shows up, and Braithwaite revels in Marvin’s antics to keep Millie from seeing the girl—Higgins does a bang up job of matching him. Their Act II scene is from Simon’s PLAZA SUITE originally, but the time frame here has been adjusted to 1984 to coincide with the prior piece. It doesn’t alter the concept in the least. You see, the Hubley’s are now at New York’s Plaza for their daughter Mimsey’s wedding. But Mimsey has locked herself in the bathroom of the suite mom and dad have booked. Needless to say, Millie is upset, but Marvin is seeing money going down the drain as their attempts to extricate Mimsey keep failing. This is the kind of comedy Braithwaite loves, and he milks every reaction he can for all it’s worth, with Higgins bringing her own comedic chops to the table as well. It’s a smart move to save this one for last—leave ‘em laughing.
Director Silva clearly knows how to create comedy; there are a number of nice touches throughout the performance. Even the scene changes are well-staged—and performed by Elizabeth Bradley as a hotel maid. The changes made to the décor throughout are great fun to watch on an attractive and serviceable set by Roman Tatarowicz, with lovely décor and props provided by Avista Custom Theatrical Services. James Leitner has lit the action well, creating distinctive moods and timeframes for each scene. A peppy, light-hearted soundscape has been provided by frequent Act II Musical Accompanist Sonny Leo, each tune putting just the right “button” to a scene. And Jill Keys has dressed each character perfectly—I loved Peakes’ Act I gown.
Now, this is not high art; the human condition is not illuminated for the betterment of all… but that’s okay. Sometimes you just need to have a good laugh. And HOTEL SUITE certainly provides that. Now that the weather seems to be settling down a bit, make the schlep to Ambler and catch these wonderful comedic actors bring these four pieces to life. You‘ll enjoy…
by Neil Simon
Directed by Matt Silva
February 18—March 23, 2014
Act II Playhouse
56 E. Butler Avenue
Ambler, PA 19002