Why would long-married celebrity couple Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker choose “Plaza Suite” as the play to reunite them on stage for the first time since 1996?
Neil Simon’s 1968 comedy, never revived on Broadway before, is what used to be called a laugh fest, its one-liners and sight gags arriving with metronomic precision. In three unrelated one-act plays, each one taking place in Suite 719 of the Plaza Hotel, Broderick and Parker portray three different middle aged couples, mostly suburban, who engage in what used to be called the Battle of the Sexes.
“I just remember we enjoyed reading it,” Broderick said of the play on NPR – he means reading it aloud at Symphony Space one evening in 2017 – “and the audience seemed to enjoy it. They were very old people.”
Parker objected: “Don’t call the audience old.”
Broderick: “I mean that in a nice way. I’m elderly.”
Their exchange sounds like something Neil Simon might have written. Another interviewer asked whether they see themselves in the characters they’re playing.
“I don’t think we connect ourselves to any of the pieces,” Parker told Playbill.
“Well, I better stick with that,” Broderick joked, then added: “I think anybody who’s in a couple would find something familiar…”
So that’s the answer: “Plaza Suite” is old and familiar — and the same can be said of the two actors starring in it. This may be exactly what their devoted fans like about them.
Broderick uses his familiar wry, comically plaintive voice, which hasn’t changed much in the 39 years since he made his Broadway debut, at age 21, in Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” although it is now housed in a body that moves as if it’s fitted with a neck brace.
Parker is more flexible, and more persuasive from character to character. She gamely goes whole-hog on the physical comedy, and is especially adept at expressions of exasperation that viewers of the “Sex and the City” franchise will recognize.
Both performers are immeasurably assisted in their transformations from play to play by Jane Greenwood’s costumes and Tom Watson’s wigs.
In “A Visitor from Mamaroneck,” Parker plays Karen Nash, who has arranged for her and her husband Sam to spend their 24thwedding anniversary in the same suite where they spent their honeymoon. Sam arrives, cranky and distracted, overworked and undernourished (he’s on a strict diet) he points out that it’s neither the right room nor the right night; she doesn’t even know how old she is.
“Math isn’t one of my best subjects.”
“This isn’t math, this is people’s lives.”
It’s a testament to Simon’s skills as a jokesmith that dialogue such as this gets a big laugh, even though it seldom resembles the way actual people would think or speak or act or live.
What starts out as a comic picture of a miserable marriage tries to become a poignant portrait, and winds up the least successful of the three plays.
In “A Visitor From Hollywood,” Broderick is Jesse, a swinging big-time Hollywood producer with three failed marriages, who’s invited Muriel, his high school sweetheart from Tenafly, New Jersey to visit him at his hotel room. He is determined to seduce her. She is married with three kids, but also star struck and has a taste for vodka stingers.
In “A Visitor From Forest Hills, “ they’re an old married couple whose daughter is supposed to get married in the ballroom downstairs, but refuses to get out of the bathroom, which makes her parents to resort to increasingly desperate measures. This is the only one of the three plays I remembered, because it’s the silliest, and the funniest
In the lobby of the Hudson Theater, the walls are covered with posters of the many plays by Neil Simon, the playwright who once ruled Broadway. From roughly the early 1960s to the late 1990s, it was a rare year when there wasn’t a Neil Simon hit on Broadway, most of which became movies, as the years progressed, his reputation went from laugh-machine to respected dramatist; he even won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for “Lost in Yonkers” in 1991.
I don’t know that anybody would select “Plaza Suite” as one of Simon’s best, although I imagine that the original director, Mike Nichols, got better performances from the original cast, George C. Scott and Maureen Stapleton than current director John Benjamin Hickey has done – and I don’t have to imagine that Walter Matthau made better comic hay of it (along with Stapleton, Lee Grant and Barbara Harris) in the movie.
I view the current “Plaza Suite” as a vehicle, a reunion, an acting exercise based on a writing exercise, and not worth getting exercised about
Hudson Theater through June 26 (Update: Extended through July 10, 2022.)
Running time: two and a half hours, including one 15 minute intermission
Ticket prices: $99 to $499
Written by Neil Simon
Directed by John Benjamin Hickey
Stage design by John Lee Beatty, costume design by Jane Greenwood, lighting design by Brian MacDevitt, sound design by Scott Lehrer,hair and wig design by Tom Watson, original music by Marc Shaman
Cast:Mathew Broderick, Sarah Jessica Parker, Danny Bolero, Molly Ranson, and Eric Wiegand