Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Plaza Suite
Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of Bury the Hatchet , I Never Sang for My Father, Godspell and Mr. Burns, a post-electric play


Jeff Jones and Michele La Forest Richmond
Photo by Renee Ashlock
The plays of Neil Simon feature layered characters, unique situations, and an abundance of well-crafted comical dialogue. His 1968 comedy Plaza Suite, which is a perfect blend of all of these elements, is a series of three one-act plays all set in the same hotel suite. It's funny but also a poignant examination of the many phases of marriage. Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre's production features a very good cast and concise direction that result in an incredibly solid production of Simon's classic comedy.

The three one-acts range from poignant comedy to farce, with each of them also a beautiful examination of the strengths and foibles of relationships. The first act focuses on a middle-aged couple who are celebrating their 23rd wedding anniversary and realize they are at a crossroads in their relationship. The unhappy couple constantly squabbles as they try to process when their relationship changed and what's next for them. The second story features a cat and mouse game of seduction between a couple of high school sweethearts who haven't seen each other in 17 years. He is now a successful Hollywood producer with three ex-wives and she's a married woman with three kids. The third is an almost full-out farce in which a nervous bride has locked herself into the suite's bathroom and her distraught parents frantically try everything they can to coax her to come out and get married.

The cast all are very good in walking the fine line between the comedy and drama while beautifully portraying these multi-dimensional characters that Simon so expertly wrote. Angela Kabasan is heartbreaking as Karen, the vulnerable and sentimental wife who is trying to rekindle the love she and her husband had in the past by booking the same hotel room where they spent their honeymoon. Wade Moran is stoic and serious as Sam, the overworked husband who is suffering a midlife crisis. Together they admirably create a painful portrait of a marriage that is failing yet has a glimmer or two of hope that they may find a way to work things out.

In the second act, Jeff Jones has the perfect devilish demeanor for Jesse, the successful Hollywood producer who is trying to seduce his former flame but finds the moves he puts on her do not always go as planned. Michele La Forest Richmond is an absolute knock-out as Muriel, the flighty, giggly woman who follows Jesse's career and secretly wonders what her life would have been like in California if they were still together. Richmond lovingly evokes the grown woman who immediately turns into the young teenager who melts when she's around the man she has a crush on while still trying to convince herself that she doesn't know why she came since she's a happily married woman.

The final act features Mary Pat Wallace and Mark Hackmann as the frazzled parents of the bride who locks herself in the bathroom. The duo play off each other well, with Wallace sturdy as the distraught mother and Hackmann perfect as the father who seems, at first, to care more about the high cost of the wedding and less about the fact that his daughter is nervous about getting married. Wallace and Hackmann fight and nit-pick, with some fun bits of physical comedy, as they try everything they can think of to convince their daughter to come out of the bathroom. In smaller roles, Anna Katen does well, with appropriate facial expressions that say a lot, as the secretary who is all business yet has a secret in act one and the nervous bride in the third act.

Director KatiBelle Collins does a splendid job in getting performances from her cast that are infused with comedy that never goes too over the top, along with many moving and emotional moments that touch upon the realistic impact of the ups and downs of romance. My only very small quibble is that there are a few humorous moments that are slightly rushed and don't get as big a laugh as they could. Collins' and Mark Baris' set design is a beautiful representation of a high-end hotel suite, even if the size of the suite in the show, due to the small stage space, is slight. However, DST's intimate Actor's Café works well to connect the cast with the emotional moments of the piece. Mickey Courtney's costumes are superb throwbacks to the styles of the 1960s, and Angela Kabasan's hair and make-up designs are stunning.

The way that Plaza Suite expertly blends comedy with a truthful representation of the various stages of relationships is a perfect example of the brilliance of Neil Simon. With an excellent cast and distinct direction, Desert Stages' production is funny and charming while also doing justice to the beauty of the intelligence of Simon's script.

Plaza Suite, through June 3, 2018, at Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre, Fashion Square, 7014 East Camelback Road, Suite 0586, Scottsdale AZ. For tickets and information, call 480-483-1664 or visit desertstages.org.

Director: KatiBelle Collins
Costume Design: Mickey Courtney
Set Design: KatiBelle Collins and Mark Baris
Lighting / Sound Design: Lindsey Ihrig
Hair and Make Up Design: Angela Kabasan

Cast:
Karen Nash: Angela Kabasan
Sam Nash: Wade Moran
Bellhop: Justin Hosten
Waiter: Roy Christiansen-Thielen
Jean McCormack: Anna Katen
Jesse Kiplinger: Jeff Jones
Muriel Tate: Michele La Forest Richmond
Norma Hubley: Mary Pat Wallace
Roy Hubley: Mark Hackmann
Borden Elsner: Justin Hosten
Mimsey Hubley: Anna Katen


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