Plaza Suite review – Sarah Jessica Parker sells Neil Simon’s marriage comedy | Broadway


A junior suite at the Plaza Hotel will run you about $1,400 a night. Which makes the $599 that you will spend on an orchestra seat for the Broadway revival of Plaza Suite almost a bargain. Then again, Broadway doesn’t yet include butler service. Or a minibar on the aisle.

Plaza Suite, a trio of loosely affiliated one-acts by Neil Simon, opened on Valentine’s Day in 1968, which is funny when you think about it. Simon was, back then, Broadway’s premiere chuckle purveyor, so the show was initially received as a comedy. “Neil Simon clearly believes a play is a machine for laughing at,” the New York Times review read. But as critics would later realize and as this current revival, a vanity effort starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, demonstrates in full, the evening smuggles in bitter underneath the sweet, like a plate of cream puffs laced with cyanide.

Taken together, the plays form a referendum on modern marriage. The votes have a lot more nays than ayes. Watching the show, you could conclude that Simon doesn’t like women (dithery, overemotional, dim when not engaged in manipulation) very much, except that he seems equally unimpressed with men (vain, ineffectual, chasing youth and sex). The chances of them finding happiness with each other? Slim to none.

Parker and Broderick, long married in real life, are the motivating force for this revival, directed by the Tony-winning actor John Benjamin Hickey. They appear in every scene, each of them set in suite 719 of the Plaza. The suite, designed by John Lee Beatty, is by the way, a triumph; it looks like the French rococo threw up on itself, exclusively in beige. And the period-perfect costumes, by Jane Greenwood, are by and large a treat.

In the first and most substantive act, Visitor from Mamaroneck, Parker plays Karen, bent on celebrating her 23rd anniversary, or possibly her 24th (Karen isn’t good with numbers, get it?), in the same room in which she spent her wedding night. But her husband, Sam (Broderick), is preoccupied with work and possibly with his secretary (Molly Ranson). In this act and in this act only, the sour stakes feel real. And still, the scene goes on too long, with Simon using trick after trick to keep these unhappy people in the same room. A machine for laughing? You can hear the gears grinding.

The next two one-acts are shorter, but they’re flimsier and also overlong. In the second act, Visitor from Hollywood, Broderick plays Jesse, an uber-producer, and Parker, Muriel, the high school girlfriend, now married, whom he hopes to seduce. Luckily, Muriel seems bent on seducing him right back. In the final and perhaps the most farcical act, Visitor from Forest Hills, Parker and Broderick play mother and father of a bride (Ranson again), who won’t come out of the bathroom on her wedding day, mostly because she fears turning into her mother. Sometimes the playlets reach for something distinct – melancholic and mordant – in the characters and their relationships. (Simon was a big fan of Chekhov.) Yet they always slide back into stereotype.

In every scene, Parker is giving the most, carrying the comedy on her narrow shoulders – slumped for Karen, shrugging for Muriel, a wilting if increasingly frantic flower for mother-of-the-bride Norma. Broderick, is doing a lot less, as is his way. But they have a flagrant enjoyment in playing opposite each other, which is the best and maybe the only reason to book in. In the midst of all this heteronormative malaise, here, at least, is one happy marriage.

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