With its staging of “Plaza Suite,” the MLT continues a loose theme in its past three productions examining friendship, family, love and marriage, and how the passing of time changes the dynamics.
The Neil Simon favorite tells the story of three different relationships all played out in Suite 719 of the Plaza Hotel in New York City. Actors Stanis Ames and Gary Ames, who are married in real life, play all three couples with delicious chameleon-like flair, flawlessly delivering Simon’s trademark whiplash wisecracks and zingers.
Both were virtually unrecognizable from act to act, changing the pitch, cadence and accent of their voices and wearing absurd period outfits replete with the requisite polyester, wide ties, gloves and bouffant hairdos, transporting the gleeful audience to “Mad Men” territory.
Between the witticisms and wisecracks, however, were moments of tenderness and pathos, which Simon does so skillfully in such works as “The Goodbye Girl,” “Biloxi Blues” and “Brighton Beach Memoirs.” Simon famously observed in an interview that this was his very goal when writing a play, to capture “how sad and funny life is.”
MLT’s take on Simon’s cheeky marriage triptych farce is an amusing romp, which drew many laughs and knowing sighs from the full house on a raw and rainy evening.
Simon wrote “Plaza Suite” in 1968, more than a full half-century ago, and during a time of great tumult and upheaval in American society. Yet this play feels oddly untouched by the sexual revolution that was roiling the country. The male and female characters in the three relationships are frozen in time, 1968 to be exact. Despite feeling dated much of the time, this comic-drama confection still works.
Under Steve Black’s deft direction, Stanis and Gary provoke, alienate and woo one another from act to act. The set is spot-on, mid-century modern with its clean lines and bourgeois art on the walls, the coffee tables and ever-present crystal decanter filled with liquor, which the characters vigorously swig.
In the first act, “Visitor from Mamaroneck,” we see Karen Nash, played with breathless, chatty angst by Stanis Ames, anxiously awaiting the arrival of her husband Sam, a distracted and brittle businessman, to Suite 719, where they had celebrated their honeymoon 24 years earlier.
Watching the dynamics of their relationship — his irritability and criticism of his wife and focus on getting back to the office to correct errors on a report rather than celebrate their anniversary — it’s clear that this marriage has been on life support for a long time.
When Sam’s fastidious and devoted secretary Jean McCormack, played with smug and breezy know-it-allness by Julia Arey, appears at the door to save the day, Karen connects the dots and confronts Sam, who confesses that he is having an affair with Jean
“Everyone cheats with their secretary; I expected more from you,” she says dejectedly.
In Act II, “Visitor from Hollywood,” a now-famous Hollywood producer, Jesse, invites his high school sweetheart, Muriel, to Suite 719 after his third marriage has gone down the tubes. Jesse idealizes the married mother of three, whom he hasn’t seen in 17 years, as “pure and sweet.”
Nervous and awestruck by her ex-boyfriend’s fame and Hollywood glamor, Muriel vigorously insists that she is “happy’ in her marriage, but Jesse can see the cracks in the foundation as Muriel, who secretly had three vodka stingers in the lobby, becomes more and more receptive to Jesse’s oleaginous charms.
For pure farce, this act is the most entertaining of the three. Watching Gary Ames, dressed like an American Austin Powers in his blue polyester suit and mutton chop sideburns, trying to seduce “unphoney” Muriel, only to have the tables turned where she devours him, is the highlight of the evening.
The third and final act, “Visitor from Forest Hills,” tells the story of an older married couple whose daughter, Mimsey, has locked herself in the bathroom of Suite 719 on her wedding day with a case of what they believe to be cold feet. The couple bicker and fret as they have bankrolled the wedding and worry that their money has been wasted.
Finally, Mimsey agrees to talk to her father, admitting that she is not so much afraid of getting married but afraid that she and her fiancé will become like her parents. Her father, Roy, played with cranky Job-like shpilkes by Gary Ames, summons the groom, Borden (Jason DeFillipo), to Suite 719, who liberates Mimsey from her bathroom refuge with the droll command, “Cool it.”
The MLT caps its 2023 season with two musical productions, “The Great Gatsby, An American Musical,” June 23 to July 2; and “Gershwin/Porter — Who Could Ask for Anything More?” July 28 to Aug. 6.The run of “Plaza Suite” continues this weekend, with performances on March 30, 31 and April 1 at 7:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. matinees on April 1 and 2 at Marblehead Little Theater, 12 School St. For more information, see mltlive.com.