Plaza sweet!

Plaza Suite

By Neil Simon
Directed by Gloria Gadzinski, Craig Stoebling, and Ellen R. Mitchell
Staten Island Shakespearean Theatre
Non-union production (closed)
Review by Charles Battersby

Neil Simon's Plaza Suite is less a single play than it is three one-acts tied together. However, a clever thread for holding them together was implemented by Simon; all three scenes occur in "Suite 719" at the Plaza. Hence the title. A common theme of failed marriage also helps provide structural integrity to the overall product. The script is full of wit, both subtle and laugh-out-loud funny, and it's filled with characters as universally identifiable today as in the '60s, when it was written.

The female members of the cast stood out -- partially due to the script, but mostly to Jeanne La Porta's almost-over-the-top performance in Scene One and Ellen R. Mitchell's hysterical nervousness in Scene Two. The male roles were either overplayed or underplayed, with some miscasting (Joseph Loffredo has excellent comic timing, but didn't come across quite right in the role of a lothario).

Craig Stoebling and Nancy Delaney constructed a set far beyond typical Off-Off-Broadway fare. It had such marvels as working lamps built right into the flats, functioning windows, and telephones that really rang (no recorded soundtrack) Some of the comic business involving the phones would never have worked without the functioning phones. At one point an actor (Craig Stoebling) crawled out a window, then made his way along a ledge and passed by a second window. Two holes in curtains wouldn't have sufficed. Stephen Fehr's lighting design heightened the realism, even going so far as lighting the windows from outside to give the illusion of sunlight.

The costume design was uncredited yet wonderful. The period-specific outfits not only let the audience know the scenes were set in the '60s but made some memorable sight gags all by themselves. The audience just had to laugh out loud when Charlie McLaughlin entered wearing the ugliest brown plaid suit ever seen. Ellen R. Mitchell's Jackie O ensemble was a comic throwback that almost upstaged Mitchell herself.

Each of the three scenes was directed by a different person (two of the directors also perform in each other's scenes). The first, and longest, scene, directed by Gloria Gadzinski, was the standout piece of the evening. Gadzinski kept the performances from becoming too farcical and took advantage of Simon's short-lived but deep characters. Craig Stoebling maintained perfect comic pacing in the second piece. The audience could almost smell the alcohol on one character's breath as she slowly lost her inhibitions over the course of the scene. Ellen R. Mitchell made less of an impression as a director for the third scene. Some inappropriate casting resulted in a mother (Marnie Zigelman) who appeared to be two years older than her daughter (Christine Zino). Also one character's repeated attempts to break down a door were obviously the actor trying to NOT break down the flimsy stage door.

Although not every piece of this production worked, this way-off-Broadway production was worth the lengthy trek out to Staten Island to see it.

(Also featuring Craig Butta)

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 1
Sets: 2
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2003 Charles Battersby