In his snarky review of Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite, the New York Times’ critic’s “clever,” oh so “entertaining” disposal of the John Benjamin Hickey production into the garbage bin of hideous fustiness seems misguided. To the critic’s dunning I shout, “Au contraire!” The production starring Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker offers a unique, glimmering reflection of the past. It is a past that we need to be reminded of. If one peers into that reflection, and considers the interactions of the characters, one sees how intelligent females bested their male counterparts with surreptitious abandon, superior wit, and brilliant irony. If one’s view is dim and dark, like the NYT critic, one sees little.
From my humble female perspective, one also considers via this production, that between then and now, with all of the hell raising and insistence on progress, and change between straight men’s and women’s relationships, nothing much has changed. Don’t believe me? Have you read any good Evangelical books lately? Have you lived in the South for any period of time, recently? All right, maybe that doesn’t make sense to you.
Well, I will remind you about that pesky statistic (one in four women are violently abused by their partners), that has yet to budge off its number. Abusing females is alive and well, and that’s despite #metoo which is a meme that only applies to the celebrated, rich and famous, including well-paid male theater critics. In plebian circles if a woman attempts to speak up, a hand often goes upside her head. And what happens after that is anyone’s guess.
That Simon exults in the superiority and cleverness of each of the female characters in the play is lost on the critic which is understandable as he is not a female. He is a male looking in and once again judging the female characters and finding them and the production fusty, dusty and musty. Unfortunately, he shallowly superimposes his #metoo version of the female perspective on the characters, thus making the push to be politically correct all the more hypocritical and disingenuous. And frankly some of it is nonsensical, though there appears to be “logic” in what he is doing because the piece is well edited. Is his editor a male too?
Ah, forget what I just stated. Be overwhelmed by the “smart attitude” of the New York Times critic who displays his own “genius,” sense of privilege and arrogance via his male writerly superiority, which is nowhere near the genius of say, Gore Vidal (a favorite of mine). So caught up in admiring his style in the mirror, he misses the themes and the currency of Hickey’s vision. He also misses the fact that relationships between men and women have gone nowhere because human misunderstanding and fear and inability to confront death and lies by keeping them at bay through self- manipulation is an everpresent fact encompassing the relationships, in Plaza Suite.
But none of that was picked up by the critic to whom the 1960s was such a thing of the past, it doesn’t exist in his imagination; nor does he appear to want to be reminded of it, if it did exist.
Instead, what is of great importance to him, it would seem, is bowing to politically correct memes. Tragically, that is a blindness and acute hypocrisy. Currently, I boycott the New York Times. I am tired of the same pap from this particular NYT critic whose dullness would be raw meat for Noel Coward, if he were alive. I stumbled upon the review clued in by a studio professor, and well-produced playwright who mentioned the tenor of the review because he knows such pablum makes me livid.
The privilege he displays is a long-held tradition at the New York Times. Females, largely absent in theater as critics, directors, etc., commented upon by Director Rachel Chauvin in her acceptance speech for Hadestown is an example of how #mettoo doesn’t work in the theater world. Perhaps the reason is that female critics and reviewers are not #metoo politically correct enough. Perhaps females don’t remind us enough that various productions are not “politically correct.” Shall I discuss LGBTQ?
Truly. Perhaps for future productions directors and producers should wipe out the canon of plays written before 2017 and #metoo, etc., as worthless. What could possibly be learned from them?
Indeed, if critics are to genuinely benefit audiences who see plays, then they must perceive, think and above all go deep. First, understand what the director’s vision is. Is the director presenting that which on first assumption perhaps the critic didn’t get? Does it pass the audience test?
The night I saw the production, Plaza Suite did pass the audience test. They enjoyed it. Thus, I agree to disagree with the NYT and the Wall Street Journal critics. The below review, which also appeared in Sandi Durell’s Theater Pizzaz explains why.
My Review of Plaza Suite: A Female Perspective
Judging by the applause as the curtain lifts and John Lee Beatty’s luxurious, shimmering set for Plaza Suite unveils, director John Benjamin Hickey’s glorious throwback to the gilded Broadway of “yesteryear,” intimates a night of enjoyment. Coupled with its second harbinger of success, enthusiastic cheers at the entrances of the husband-and-wife team Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, the Neil Simon revival emblazons itself a smash even before Karen (Parker) and Sam (Broderick) have their first disagreement.
Not one moment falters in the pacing or mounting crescendo of hilarity in this superbly configured production about a suite of rooms (a conceit knock-off of Noel Coward’s Suite in Three Keys). There, visitors from Mamaroneck, Hollywood and Forest Hills play out their dreams and face their foibles in room 719 at the historic Plaza Hotel. That the place is still standing is a source of Simon witticisms.
Apparently, rumors of its being bought over by rapacious developers to be torn down making way for state-of-the-art buildings even existed at Simon’s writing. The theme of the ugly new replacing the beautiful old and historic as a pounding mantra of New York City is everpresent and a sometime theme in the triptych of playlets about couples.
Hickey shepherds Parker’s and Broderick’s performances, delivered with “effortless” aplomb, gyrating from one comedic flourish to another to the amazing farcical finale. Authentically and specifically (gestures, mannerisms, presence, posture), they hone the characterizations of three disparate couples, breathing into them the humanity we’ve all come to love and loathe. We didn’t want the fun to end, and it was apparent that neither did they.
The few times they broke each other up or comfortably ad libbed, they let the audience in on the endearing fact that they were having a blast. That mutuality between audience and performers was doubly so because they’ve been waiting to perform for two years of COVID hell. Happy to be back in front of a live audience, their enthusiasm was communicated by the ineffable electricity that happens in live performance and changes nightly because of the audience’s diverse sensibilities. The performers vibrated. The audience vibrated back. The circle completed and rolled around for the next laugh which topped the next.
Ingeniously entertaining, incredibly performed, Plaza Suite at the Hudson Theatre which runs for a limited engagement is a spectacular winner. Here’s why you should see it.
Though Neil Simon’s concept that he lifted from Coward has been reshaped and used by playwrights and screenwriters since the 1960s when Simon wrote Plaza Suite, the production gives it a unique uplift because of its specificity and attention to detail. Importantly, viewed through a historical lens, the relationships, character intentions and conflicts ring with comical verities. Wisely, Hickey allows the characters inhabited by these sterling performers to chronicle the values and folkways of the sixties which were a turning point in our society and culture. The understanding that arises from Simon’s exploration suggests why we are where we are today.
Finally, using humor the play deeply touches on seminal and timeless human topics: fear of aging, seduction, loneliness, marriage unsustainability, the generation gap and more.
In the first playlet, Karen’s Mamoneck housewife chafes in a relationship which she unconsciously senses has soured. She books Suite 719 to celebrate her anniversary with Sam and ironically initiates the reverse.
Listening carefully and watching Parker’s Karen, noting her plain outfit and hairstyle and comparing it to Broderick’s Sam, the laconic, dapper, sharp, appearance obsessed businessman, we should anticipate what will happen. We don’t because Simon’s keen, witty dialogue of thrust and parry between Sam and Karen keeps us laughing and because the performances are so spot-on, in the moment, we, like the characters, don’t know what’s happening next. However, of course, Broderick and Parker do. Yet, they are so alive onstage, that the characters’ reactions remain a surprise and the revelations are unanticipated.
Karen’s ironic subtext brilliantly digging at Sam to confess he’s having an affair is wonderful dialogue expertly delivered. A few of Parker’s lines bring down the house with her sharply paced delivery. One is her crackerjack response to Sam’s “What are we going to do.” Without a blink Parker’s “You’re taken care of. I’m the one who needs an activity,” receives audience whoops and hollers. An age-old event of cheating and adultery is born anew.
Simon’s snapping-turtle dialogue in the face of today’s hackneyed insult humor is wickedly scintillating. In the Hollywood seduction playlet, High School sweethearts become reacquainted. Broderick’s smarmy Hollywood producer Jesse Kiplinger decked out in his Mod finest is a classless nerd who confesses his unhappiness with the Hollywood slime set and his three *&$% ex-wives who take not only his money but his guts and soul. Muriel in Parker’s equivalent of her fashionable self in the ‘60s, is enthralled by Jesse’s Hollywood persona, but is in keeping with the innocent, demure women Jesse remembers. The hilarity builds into what becomes a reverse seduction scene by a steaming married woman when they “get down to brass tacks.”
All stops are pulled in “A Visitor from Forest Hills.” The costumes (Jane Greenwood), the hair and wig design (Tom Watson), contribute to building the maximum LMAO riot. The inherent action and zany organic characterizations by Broderick and Parker augment to hysteria when Mimsey refuses to attend her own wedding and ensconces herself in the bathroom.
Norma and Roy implore Mimsey attempting to psychologically manipulate her and each other to get her to come out. Parker and Broderick effectively create the image of their daughter crying, possibly suicidal, as she remains unseen, silent and incorrigible behind the sturdy, unbreakable bathroom door. Desperate to stem a disastrous day, Broderick’s “out of his mind with frustration” Roy even goes out on the ledge and braves a pigeon attack and thunderstorm to wrangle in his wayward child. Broderick’s mien and gestures bring on belly laughs.
What they do to move heaven and earth to get Mimsey to come out is priceless comedy that is easier than it looks. The frustration and fury the actors convey with the proper balance to appear realistic yet crazy and smack-me funny is what makes this over-the-top segment fabulous.
Kudos to the artistic team which includes Brian MacDevitt (lighting design) and Scott Lehrer (sound design). For tickets go to https://plazasuitebroadway.com/