The setting of Neil Simon’s “Plaza Suite” is under threat right at the beginning of the play, when we are told the famous hotel is facing the wrecking ball: “Today it has to be new
NEW YORK — The very setting of Neil Simon’s “Plaza Suite” is under threat, right from the opening scene.
The mighty Plaza Hotel — an elegant castle overlooking Central Park — has a date with the wrecking ball. “Today it has to be new. Old is no good any more,” we are told.
That might be fitting for Simon’s comedy-drama from 1968 as well. A revival that opened Monday at the Hudson Theatre showed its age, with more than a few threadbare parts.
Even the starry union of Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker — giving the trio of tales an extra bit of electricity since they are, in fact, married — couldn’t conceal its infirmities.
In essence, “Plaza Suite” is three one-act plays, all taking place in Suite 719 over different nights. There’s a long-married pair whose relationship may not make it through the night, two former high school sweethearts rekindling their romance, and the parents of a reluctant bride, who has barricaded herself in the bathroom on her wedding day.
The Broadway revival directed by John Benjamin Hickey goes from sad to funny to farcical, with Broderick and Parker ever more physical on that continuum, from stale and mannered at the beginning to ending with something out of vaudeville.
Simon’s wit is delicious and savage as the first couple circle each other, slowly verbally clawing at one another. “You live with a person your whole life, you don’t really know them,” says the husband of 23 years, Broderick playing him officious, prim, vain and self-contained, somewhat robotic.
Parker taps into her physical comedy in the second tale, playing a girlish, star-struck housewife hiding her domestic unhappiness and regret, which she blurts out between belts of several vodka stingers as she practically bounces off the walls.
In this one, Broderick plays a frisky Hollywood producer who seems to channel Austin Powers. He’s set on seducing his old flame without really seeing her: “You are the only, solitary, real, honest-to-goodness, un-phony woman that I have been with since the day I arrived in Hollywood 17 years ago.”
Then, in the third part, Broderick and Parker go full-on slapstick as the parents of the bride, like an episode of “I Love Lucy.” Clothes are torn, pigeons attack, odd voices are employed, Harold Lloyd stunts attempted and the actors slide and bounce about like steel coils. They’ve gone too far, almost mugging for the audience.
Broderick threatens to knock down the set as he slams on the bathroom door to get at his daughter: “This is no time to be having second thoughts. It’s costing me $8,000 for the first thoughts!”
Aside from the odd dated reference — Dr. Joyce Brothers, hello? — and some unfortunate reminders of our current time — like that powerful Hollywood producers using hotel rooms for seduction isn’t very funny anymore — “Plaza Suite” definitely feels more than 50 years old.
It’s stuck in the mid-20th century with its privileged elites, offering pre-feminist musings on midlife crises and the elusiveness of marital bliss, all over a room service double scotch. It is being staged for the very people who feel the need to burst into applause when they first see John Lee Beatty’s gorgeous Plaza set, complete with chandeliers, sconces and timelessly elegant chairs.
They know they’ll be gently taken care of in here, like guests at a stuffy, hyper-expensive hotel living off its legacy, that has endured. Not challenged or stretched. It is an elegant looking past, yes, but it’s time for the new. Today, it has to be new.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits