To quote the great L. P. Hartley, “the past is a different country, they do things differently” and in 1968 Neil Simon lived in a world of rampant sexism, male supremacy, and iffy vibes, as his three act anthology play “Plaza Suite” at the famous New York City hotel (now condominiums -ugh) about love and marriage in the same hotel room, attests.
Secretary’s having affairs, weddings on hold, and celebrity seduction, are all concepts that age not very well. There is nothing to be done about it. You can’t update it out of the late 60s without losing it and you can’t play it straight. Or can you? Director John Benjamin Hickey answers the foreign country problem by having it so straight, so in its time, that it functions as a memory play. And it might have worked entirely if not for two things:
1 – A dreadful first act
2 – Mathew Broderick is woefully miscast
Let’s start with the latter, the Broderick role was initially performed by George C. Scott on Broadway and Walter Matthau in the movie, and Broderick couldn’t be a worse fit: Broderick is 60 years old and still hasn’t shaken his boyish Ferris Bueller vibe and when he manages to he replaces it with a hysterical hysteria a la Leo Bloom. He can’t do strength, he can’t do stoicism… he certainly can’t do General Patton and in the first act, “Visitor From Mamaroneck” he certainly can’t do a tough minded business, having an affair, and on the day before his 23rd wedding anniversary his wife checks him into the Plaza Suite in question and their marriage falls apart. If Broderick is terrible, his real life wife Sarah Jessica Parker is a revelation, she carries (sic) the hour long play on her bony shoulders, falling apart and coming together with as much dignity as the play allows, the same goes for the small but strong performance by Molly Ranson. But Mathew performs the husband with a coldness that feels fake and while the story itself has aged terribly, he hurts it even more
Still, there is the gorgeous Plaza Suite itself, a lovely two room suite in, to steal Leah Greenblatt’s review from Entertainment Weekly (here) “tastefully rococo set of rooms swathed in chandeliers, silk damask, and burnished golds, with a towering “view” of the Pierre outside its windows”. And after the intermission things begin to kick in with the second act (er, play) “A Visitor From Hollywood” in which Mathew plays a Hollywood producer who chances on a picture of his High School sweetheart today and makes plans to seduce her during a visit to the city to sign Lee Marvin! This is more in Broderick’s wheelhouse and he plays the seducer with a thoughtful bumble and a slyness, though, again, Sarah is wonderful in a role Barbara Harris performed so well in the movie (Harris? “sweetness carried well into infinity” according to Walter Kerr) and while Sarah seems too brittle for the role she runs with it and is beyond adorable, and gets her laughs. Its point, that nothing gets her in bed until he discusses his famous celebrity friends, remains pretty accurate.
The third act is just as funny, at times funnier, and finally Broderick is perfect as his self control and bluster fall apart during “Visitor From Forest Hills”, where his daughter locks herself in the bathroom and the husband and wife can’t get her out in time for the wedding ceremony. He tries to climb through the window in what amounts to the biggest laugh of the evening. It sends us home on cloud nine.
“Plaza Suite” is the first Neil Simon revival since Doc’s passing in 2018 and it makes you wonder if his plays will last through the 21st century, they certainly should…
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