Like Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals and Agatha Christie mysteries, Neil Simon comedies are the butt of many jokes. Still, you can't help laughing at his comedies.
Almost everyone can identify with the plights of his characters, even if just a little bit. Maybe it’s because they’re so dysfunctional, they make us feel good about ourselves.
Simon’s “Plaza Suite” at Olympia Little Theatre, provides glimpses into the lives of three couples who make us thankful we’re not them. We meet all three in a trio of one-acts related only by time and setting, Suite 719 at the Plaza Hotel in 1968.
Sam Nash (Corey Moore) is a businessman too busy for his romantic wife, Karen (Valerie Kirkwood), who wants to celebrate their anniversary in the same room where they spent their honeymoon. But she reserved the wrong room on the wrong day, and her husband seems to have lost all interest in romance anyway – at least all interest in romance with her.
Jesse Kiplinger (Ryan Martin Holmberg) is a successful movie producer with a reputation as a ladies’ man who has arranged to meet, and hopefully seduce, his old girlfriend Muriel Tate (Hannah Andrews). Muriel is married and determined to remain faithful to her husband despite an attraction to Jesse that borders on insane celebrity worship.
Roy Hubley (Christopher Cantrell) and his wife, Norma (Christine Goode), are at the Plaza for the wedding of their daughter, Mimsey (April Kinder), who has locked herself in the bathroom and refuses to come out.
All three stories are fall-on-the-floor funny, but with enough reality and poignancy to make us empathize with the six characters.
It is acted with passion and realism. Kirkwood plays Karen Nash in a manner that reminds me of Jean Stapleton playing Edith Bunker in “All in the Family.” Very expressive and somewhat ditzy, Kirkwood’s Karen makes you want her to find the romance she seeks, even though you know from the start she’s not going to. Moore’s acting keeps getting better. I’ve seen him in many OLT shows, and this is one of his best performances.
I didn’t like Holmberg’s Jesse, but that’s because his acting is natural enough to make us believe, or want to believe, that Rat Pack wannabe Jesse really is as superficial as he seems to be. Andrews is fabulous as silly, sexy Muriel who is madly flirtatious despite desperate attempts to remain pure. She is the most madcap character in the play, and Andrews plays her with verve.
Cantrell and Goode quickly go through a range of emotions – anger, hurt and befuddlement – as a couple constantly on each other’s nerves but united in their concern for and frustration with the daughter they cannot understand. No one plays comic rage the way Cantrell does. Watching him, you can’t help but think he’s going to have a heart attack, or destroy something or someone, or burst apart at the seams. Maybe that doesn’t sound funny, but it is.
The other actors are Samuel Johnston and Brittni Reinertsen. This is Reinertsen’s first appearance in Olympia, but far from her first appearance on stage. She’s been in a number of shows in Seattle and has appeared off Broadway. She’s delightful in a small role here, plus she’s responsible for the great 1960s costumes. Johnston is the only actor who is in all three stories. He shows great skill in creating very three very different characters – a bellhop, a waiter and Mimsey’s fiancée.
I started off speculating that people like Simon’s plays because they can empathize with his characters while feeling superior to them. Another reason his plays are so popular is because he masterfully balances farce and reality. His characters are not stupid people, but they act in stupid ways, and we can laugh at them while feeling for them. That balance is struck well by the cast of this production.