SummerStage at Indiana State University in Terre Haute opened with Neil Simon’s "Plaza Suite" directed by ISU chair and SummerStage artistic director Arthur Feinsod.
"Plaza Suite" is an artfully arranged trio of plays ranging from a comical, but bitter opening to a light entre-acte and finally to flat out farce.
The opening "Visitor from Mamaroneck" introduces us to the elegant cream and gold trimmed suite of designer Linda Janosko. Karen Nash played with charming verve by SummerStage newcomer Sharon Ammen has come back to the room where she celebrated her wedding oftwenty-three or perhaps twenty-four years ago. Numbers are not Karen’s strong suit. She’s hoping for a romantic evening to put a bit of spice back into her marriage with her husband Sam, SummerStage veteran Mark Douglas-Jones. Things go wrong right from the beginning as Karen has romance on her mind and Sam has the facts and figures of an important contract on his. Things heat up as Sam admits that part of his distraction is an affair with his secretary. Karen has a wonderful line as she tells Sam that she’s disappointed in him. Not disappointed that he is having an affair, but that he didn’t have enough imagination or gumption to at least find someone outside his own office. Simon’s opening is plenty funny, but it’s quite a touching piece as well.
The second and shortest of the three plays of "Plaza Suite," "The Visitor from Hollywood," is a sort of light interlude. Former Tenefly, New Jersey, high school boy and now successful Hollywood producer Jesse Kiplinger, Andy Ragensteine, is at the Plaza for a few days. He invites an old high school sweet heart, Murial Tate, Ann Venable up to his room with high hopes. Jesse’s efforts with alcohol, praise and even appeals for sympathy all fail with Murial. It’s only when he accidentally starts reeling off Hollywood names that he may or may not actually know that Murial’s ardor is aroused. A few of Murial’s clothes begin to come off and the lights go down as Jesse makes up a star studded guest list for an imaginary dinner party.
The finale of "Plaza Suite" at SummerStage is the "Visitor from Forest Hills." A bride-to-be has locked herself into the suite’s bathroom. Pressures rise as the wedding part waits downstairs and the mother played in epic style by Susan Monts-Bologna and the father, Jerry Walker try to get her out of their. Efforts escalate with thoughtful entreaties and appeals to reason moving to sobbingly desperate requests, threats of various kinds, and physical assaults on the door. Monts-Bologna and Walker milk this situation for all it is worth. In a few places Walker pays tribute to Walter Mathau’s performance in the role. The audience got involved to the point that it was applauding each individual effort. It’s irony of ironies that after all these wild efforts, it’s the groom simply calmly telling his bride-to-be to "…cool it!" that ends the impasse. It’s left to the father to end the scene with a baffled…"after all this…it comes down to ‘cool it!’"
As the casts of the three plays came on stage for the bows, the audience rose for a well earned standing ovation..
Performances of Neil Simon’s "Plaza Suite" in the ISU SummerStage repertoire continue through July 20th. This weekend, the musical "Spitfire Grill" joins it in the repertoire.
You can see this review and listen to an interview with actress Sharon Ammen on the Arts Interviews page .