When I was in college, I had an opportunity to do California Suite. Due to student politics, that plan was scrapped for a mediocre project that never materialized. But I never forgot this quartet of playlets, hoping one day to encounter it again in some shape or form. Seven years later, my wish has come true this Stage Door production. Six players (Merry Jo Pitasi, Dante Marelli, James Cichewicz, Meryl Bezrutczyk, Elizabeth King, and Rusty Allison) perform in four different pieces, all taking place in a Beverly Hills hotel suite. Experience, chemistry, and madcappery must be the focus when it comes to this chestnut. In the Stage Door’s case: two out of three ain’t bad!
In the first scene - "Visitor from New York" - Hannah (Pitasi), a magazine editor and Billy (Cichewicz), a screenwriter, are a divorced pair sharing a good battle of wits, barbs and custody of their 17-year-old daughter. Hannah resents Billy as he’s changed into a kinder, gentler person (with a girlfriend half his age). Billy wants their daughter to stay with him in San Francisco for a longer period of time while Hannah figures out how to rake them both over the coals.
Next scene - "Visitor from Philadelphia" - finds Marvin (Allison) in a very compromising predicament with a young woman (King) he finds in his bed. The problem escalates when his wife Millie (Bezrutczyk) comes in from the City of Brotherly Love to give Marvin some spousal affection, not knowing that he had some affection the night before (not that he remembers any of it).
Act two opens with "Visitors from London," in which Diana (Pitasi), a popular actor, is being nominated for an Academy Award. Accompanying her is Sidney (Marelli), her antique-dealing husband. London gets two scenes: before Diana wins and after. The aftermath reveals secrets concluding in lessons of poignancy.
"Visitors from Chicago" finishes the Suite as two couples - Mort and Beth (Cichewicz, King) and Gert and Stu (Bezrutczyk, Allison) - face off at the tennis court that leads back into the bedroom.
None of these four playlets have anything to do with each other, but California Suite is a zany ride into the realm of what makes couples tick. This Stage Door rendition has the experience and the slapstick it needs to make the play move. Since most segments deal with only two people, both players must keep the momentum going for the laughs to keep coming. This is where the Stage Door is lacking. Director Hugh Murphy has assembled a sextet that is capable of the chemistry. Four of them know Murphy’s style well from dealing with each other in The Last Night of Ballyhoo, which was the Stage Door’s previous tenant. Transfers Merry Jo Pitasi, Meryl Bezrutczyk, Elizabeth King and Rusty Allison shine due to experience in their own separate ways.
In "New York", James Cichewicz is miscast as Billy. Using makeup to age, Cichewicz still looks too young compared to Pitasi’s Hannah. Once again, experience is also an issue as Pitasi ends up holding the scene together while Cichewicz seems stiff in giving her feedback. Pitasi has a better partner in Dante Marelli as Sidney in "London"; Pitasi still cooks the scene, but at least Marelli holds his own by snapping barbs and picking up cues.
Allison is hilarious as Marvin in "Philadelphia." With obvious assistance from King, Allison’s zany pratfalls and physical comedy make him a natural. Bezrutczyk also chimes in as Marvin’s beleaguered wife who gets punked in the end. Bezrutczyk gives a memorable performance of a wife who stands by her man.
Cichewicz fares better in "Chicago." He and King make a good couple while Allison and Bezrutczyk play the opposition quite nicely. Once surrounded by friends, Cichewicz seems more comfortable finding the humor in his character. The quartet's synergy allows the production to end on a high note.
The resident design staff has the rooms in tip-top form. Sean McClelland’s set is nice and plush while David Torres’ lighting is simple. Hugh Murphy should also be commended for his “if it ain’t broke ..." formula in using some of his Ballyhoo company.
California Suite is a good way to spend the holidays out with someone you love, or ... not. Check out date is February 6th, so enjoy your stay, courtesy of the Stage Door Theatre. They are located at 8036 W. Sample Road, Coral Springs. For tickets, please call (954) 344-7765 or www.stagedoortheatre.com.
STAGE DOOR THEATRE - California Suite
Cast: Merry Jo Pitasi, Dante Marelli, James Cichewicz,
Set Design: Sean McClelland
Costume Coordinator: Anna Torres
Directed by Hugh M. Murphy
-- Kevin Johnson