CALIFORNIA SUITE at Barley Sheaf: Quadruple the Comedy

by Laura and Keith Clattenburg

Four short plays make up Neil Simons CALIFORNIA SUITE, which we were treated to at The Barley Sheaf Players on Friday evening. Groups of talented actors play various couples passing through a Beverly Hills Hotel suite. Each scene brought different styles and creativity of the characters involved. The play is a moment in time that captures ongoing relationships that develop and mature through some kind of crisis or turning point, with histories neatly packed in.

Opening: The maid (TiaChanel Allen) serves as entertainment between scene changes. Recently seeing her in RENT, her performance again did not disappoint. From her cleverly choreographed feather dusting, to fluffing up a pillow, to her very funny “ick” gestures as she enters the guest restroom, a gold star goes to her performance. Kudos!

Act I Scene 1: “Visitor from New York” (directed by Lindsay Franklin) A very sophisticated and professional divorced couple argue over which parent should keep their 17-year-old daughter. The verbal sparring between Hannah (Julia Liebhardt) and Billy (Michael Tarringer) is both painful and hilarious—everything’s fair game for Hannah’s twisted jests. She pulls in opposite ends of the spectrum to push the buttons of her city-turned-coastal husband—“a 45-year-old Billy”. Carrying her character with complete finesse, we see the vulnerable side of Hannah when she reveals her fears to be more than the geographical separation from her trying teen. Liebhardt switches moods without missing a beat, and Tarringer is at his best here also as he listens intently as she expresses her fear of losing her daughter. The couple knows each other on an intimate level even years after the divorce.

(Top) Natalie Gaspari, (Bottom) Bryan McVeigh. (Photo credit: Andrea Grinwis)

(Top) Natalie Gaspari, (Bottom) Bryan McVeigh. (Photo credit: Andrea Grinwis)

Scene 2: “Visitors From Philadelphia” (directed by Christine Robinson) Three is certainly a crowd when Marvin Michaels (Byran McVeigh) wakes up “the morning after” to find out that he has overslept, a passed-out call girl, Bunny (Elizabeth Wheeler), is in his bed, and his wife Millie Michaels (Natalie Gaspari) is on her way up. After much sweat and almost tears, Marvin decides to let the “proverbial cat” out of the bag before Millie discovers it herself that there is someone else in that bed that she so desires to nap in. Comical and an “uh-oh” moment at the same time, you could feel the angst between McVeigh and Gaspari. McVeigh did a wonderful job at acting out the nervous cheating husband and Gaspari is terrific at portraying a woman of a thousand faces as the agitated yet forgiving wife.

ACT II Scenes 1 and 2: “Visitors From London” (directed by Allison Greet), takes cultural jabs this time at the whole of American culture by way of Hollywood. Oscar-nominated actress Diana (Fran Kane) from British descent drives her husband, Sidney (Ron Blasdell), crazy with her insecurities just before the awards ceremonies. Kane is charming, displaying her self-consciousness in off-handed swipes: she asks her husband to cover the “hump” on her chiffon dress when she receives her award; “I look like Richard the III.” Both Kane and Blasdell were a delight to watch with their dry sense of humor and delightful wit. They were perfectly matched and reminded Laura of her days watching PBS British comedy with her father way back when.

Bonnie Schuman, Deb Topka, Jan Brofka-Berends, Keith Chamberlain. (Photo credit: Andrea Grinwis)

Bonnie Schuman, Deb Topka, Jan Brofka-Berends, Keith Chamberlain. (Photo credit: Andrea Grinwis)

Scene 3: “Visitors From Chicago,” two couples at the end of their vacation together, go at each other’s throats after a game of mixed doubles turns into mixed trouble. After a series of bangings and bruisings on the tennis court, Mort Hollender (Jan Brofka-Berends), Beth Hollender (Bonnie Schuman), Gert Franklyn (Deb Topka), and Stu Franklyn (Keith Chamberlain), who are hobbling, hopping or tottering around the two-room suite create a very funny slapstick.

Although preferring musicals to plays, we must say that this play is an appropriate choice for fast-moving attention-getting entertainment and we were glad we saw CALIFORNIA SUITE. The mood changes are quick for some of the characters, Liebhardt’s and Kane’s in particular, and the cast had no trouble keeping up. Very entertaining.

by Neil Simon
September 5 – 20, 2014
Barley Sheaf Players
810 N. Whitford Road
Lionville, PA 19353

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