Neil Simon's "Plaza Suite" is set in New York's Plaza Hotel in 1968, and Olympia Little Theatre's version will put you in the right spirit before the first line of dialogue is spoken.
The comedy — which includes three stories, unrelated except they are set in the same hotel room – features a realistic and detailed set designed by Olympia interior designer Kathy Gilliam.
“The set is an ‘Oh, wow,’ ” said Toni Holm, the theater company’s secretary.
Gilliam herself said it’s “a little bit of tongue-in-cheek ’60s.
“I can’t say it’s all accurate, but it’s certainly in the spirit. If we couldn’t find it, we built it or painted it to look like the ’60s. We combined florals and prints and stripes, and I think it’s turned out to be one of the most elegant looking sets that they’ve had. It is quite realistic, which is not what Olympia Little Theatre usually goes for,” Gilliam said.
Minimal sets are more affordable for a small theater company, but in this case, elegant doesn’t mean expensive, said Gilliam, who often helps with OLT set design as well as doing interior design. In fact, she studied set design in college before switching to interior design, and she loves doing both.
“I have been garage-sale hopping for the last six weeks,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve missed an estate sale in Thurston County, and I am a frequent flyer at Goodwill.
“My sets are a little more realistic, because I have so much access to furniture,” she added. “It finds me. I have great garage-sale karma.”
Director Lynne Andreasen decided to keep the setting of the 1968 play in the ’60s because the material is very much of its time.
“There had been women’s liberation,” she said. “There had been the sexual revolution. A lot of the play deals with these women who grew up in the ’40s, and all of a sudden, they find themselves in a changing world. They know more about relationships; they know more about taking risks.”
But the humor, which ranges from comedic drama to slapstick, is no less funny for its age — and it’s familiar to Andreasen, who grew up in New York.
“The New York sarcasm is very natural to me,” she said. “Some people see New York sarcasm as being mean; in New York, it’s just very typical. There’s a directness that comes from that.”
She gave an example from the show. “In one scene, an actor says, ‘Karen, let’s not fight anymore,’ and she says, ‘OK, Sam,’ and he says, ‘Let’s be nice to each other,’ and she says, ‘OK. Who goes first?’ ”
Some people might scorn Simon because of his mass appeal, but not Andreasen. “A lot of people find Simon’s work to be trite,” she said. “It’s always a crowd-pleaser, but they don’t see the depth. I think that he’s a genius in his ability to take the audience on a roller-coaster ride between the absurdity and the reality of the situations. There’s honesty and anger, but it’s the humor that makes it palatable for the audience, so you’re not saying, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is the most depressing thing.’ ”