Plaza Suite at the Pavilion Theatre
October 24, 2013
Rough Magic Theatre Company excel at providing emerging theatre artists with the opportunities they require to propel their career forward, never more so than through their SEEDS programme. It offers professional experience and training to early career theatre artists. With their production of Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite they touch base with three generations of SEEDS directors, Sophie Motley, Aoife Spillane-Hinks and Matt Torney whilst also giving Irish audiences the chance to indulge in the work of one of Broadway’s most consistently successful writers who, bizarrely, is rarely performed here despite being considered the master of funny lines. Rich in period detail and sharp observations on the human condition, Plaza Suite is a terrific evening of entertainment. It stops just short of being terrific theatre thanks to some unfortunate playing.
Set in late 1960s New York in Suite 719 of the Plaza Hotel, it follows three couples as they combat cooling affection. In Visitor From Mamaroneck, helmed by Motley, Sam (Lambert) and Karen Nash (Ardiff) return to the scene of their honeymoon, 24 years to the day, for what Karen hopes will be a night of rekindled passion. But a return to the way they were before their son flunked out of college, their daughter mastered in dirty clothing and Sam started to stay late at the office (though they never got any richer) remains out of reach.
Ardiff can be heartbreaking as a woman trying to stand by a man who won’t let her. She is one of those actresses who can get an audience on her side by doing very little. She’s a magnet for empathy. But while this character may have a sunny facade she has weaker moments too and we never really saw the events of the evening take their toll on her. Her stage spouse, a vain, coarse creature is also skipping on the cracks of his psyche and Lambert’s cold, repelling performance missed a lot of the subtleties within the text.
In Visitor from Hollywood (directed by Spillane-Hinks), two former sweethearts, Jesse (Kelly) and Muriel (White) meet up for the first time in almost 17 years. He’s a Hollywood producer and she’s highly impressed. As the liqueur flows, the gloves quite literally come off and as the trip down memory lane crashes into the painful and perverted present. Ali White is terrific as a housewife with an inferiority complex, flying to extremes but committing to them so that she takes us with her. Darragh Kelly’s turn as a sleazy Hollywood producer is a little to on the nose. The Machiavellian glint never leaves his eyes as he slides into sleazy caricature that reduces the impact of the dark ending to the piece.
Finally, in Visitor from Forest Hills (Torney), The Hubleys (a coronary inducing Eleanor Methven and Nick Dunning) rip coats and stockings, break bones and smash jewels as they struggle to get their daughter Mimsy (Jodie O Neil) out of the bathroom and down to her wedding, that has cost her father so much money and is about to cost her mother her reputation. It’s a delicious piece of writing chocked full of verbal zingers and glorious slapstick whilst also being dark, cruel and at times heartbreaking. All this is adhered to in this warm, wily, waggish production with Methven cranking it up as a New York Jew – come animated houseplant and Nick Dunning seeming more alive than he has in ages as her gobby spouse.
Simon’s script is a thing of beauty and the relish with which the actors tuck into their parts is infectious. The shakier moments are drowned out by the intuitive comedy, which has lost none of its sparkle with age, and although not a showcase for what their minds can do the three directors proved that they could stay within the lines whilst funneling three cohesive visions of the same world onto the stage.