Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
Hedgerow Theatre is offering a mostly enjoyable version of one of Neil Simon's biggest Broadway successes, 1968's Plaza Suite. The show earns a lot of laughs, thanks to Simon's expert gag writing and characterization. But this version is merely serviceable; it's fun, but it falls short of being an exceptional evening.
Simon's play consists of three one-act comedies, each set in the same suite at New York's Plaza Hotel. However, Hedgerow has cut out the second act, "Visitor From Hollywood." Eliminating it means we're left with two scenes about the lives of long-married couples; the deleted act, which is about a lothario who attempts to seduce an old flame, would have introduced some welcome variety. It's also a very funny scene, and if there's anything a comedy could use, it's more jokes.
So we're left with act one, "Visitor from Mamaroneck," about a couple revisiting the suite where they spent their honeymoon, and act three, "Visitor from Forest Hills," about a couple whose daughter has locked herself in the bathroom on her wedding day. In each scene, the central couple is played by Penelope Reed and Zoran Kovcic, who have been central to Hedgerow's revitalization over the past two decadesshe's the Producing Artistic Director, he's the General Manager. They're also a couple in real life, having been married for over thirty years.
In "Visitor from Mamaroneck" they play Karen and Sam Nash, who have been married for twenty-three yearsor is it twenty-four? According to Simon's dialogue, Sam is 51 and Karen is 47. (I'll be charitable here and say that the actors seem, well, a bit too mature for their roles.) Karen wants to put some spice back into their stagnant marriage, but Sam is too consumed with his job to pay her much attention. Reed plays the absent-minded Karen in a dithery, over-exaggerated manner, which works until the plot takes a poignant turn and Reed doesn't adjust. Kovcic's Sam acts distracted, which seems appropriate at firstbut later, after he confesses to an indiscretion and speaks frankly, he continues to keep his head down and avoid eye contact. Kovcic never fully connects with Reed, even when Simon's script demands it. The scene ends in a big argument, but under Janet Kelsey's lackadaisical direction, there's no heat and no spark.
Reed and Kovcic seem much more comfortable with the broad comedy of "Visitor from Forest Hills." They get to do slapstick and some hilarious one-liners, and the script's lack of subtlety suits their styles better. Even here, though, there's a misstep: Kovcic begins the scene with a New York accent, but drops it after a few minutes.
Kovcic is also responsible for the set design, which is missing some essential things, like a doorway between the suite's two rooms (it's just hinted at, sometimes awkwardly, by the actors). The set also lacks a New York cityscape backdrop for the view out the suite's windows; judging from this show, New York City is pitch black at "3:00 pm on a warm Saturday afternoon in Spring."
Hedgerow's Plaza Suite is frustrating at times because the acting, directing and design all need to be tightened up. Despite the general air of sloppiness, however, Plaza Suite still works, because the script has held up pretty well. Simon's best shows really do stand the test of time. And Plaza Suite ends with its funniest scene, which sends the audience home in a good mood. Say what you will about Neil Simon, but he's always known how to leave 'em laughing.
Plaza Suite runs through March 6, 2011, at Hedgerow Theatre, 64 Rose Valley Road, Rose Valley, Pennsylvania. Ticket prices are $25, with discounts for seniors and children, and may be purchased by calling the box office at 610-565-4211, online at www.hedgerowtheatre.org or in person at the box office.