By Jordan Wright (Photo/Matthew Randall)
Neil Simon’s “Plaza Suite,” which plays out over three vignettes and is set in room 719 of New York’s famed Plaza Hotel, is a comedy that delights in the foibles and follies of love and marriage.
For this Little Theatre of Alexandria production, Director Shawn g. Byers has chosen to represent three different eras in the hotel’s 100-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 its famed Palm Court and Oak Room are projected across the stage while music of the era plays in the background. The show opens with the lovely lilting voice of songstress Alicia Keys.
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 what she thinks is the same room where they honeymooned. But they don’t even agree on that.
“We’re some lousy couple,” Sam, her husband, concedes.
Elsewhere, preoccupied with her age and weight, Karen has become a doormat for her svelte husband, played by 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 going on between them.
If you think this is a clone of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” it is not, as Simon is a playwright fond of exploiting everyday human frailties with a massive dose of one-liners, sarcasm and slapstick. It’s more akin to the Marx Brothers and their style of physical comedy.
The second act takes us back to the 1960s. Photos of The Beatles, the Rat Pack and that most celebrated of all couples from the jet setter days, Elizabeth 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 of seduction ensues.
The final act takes place at the turn of the 20th century. The very Victorian Norma Hubley (Anne Paine West) and her 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 pre-wedding jitters.
“Think about my life,” Norma pleads, trying to coax her daughter out. “Your father will kill me!”
In the film version from 1971, Walter Matthau played all three male leads, and you will see echoes of his bumbling everyman style in Roy, 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 decor of room 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.
“Plaza Suite” runs through July 5 at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe St. For tickets and information call the box office at 703-683-0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com.