Friday, September 19, 2008

Plaza Suite

Tonight and Saturday are the last two nights you'll get to see Plaza Suite at Boise Little Theater, so please, do yourself a favor and go.

The script consists of three vignettes, all of which take place in the same suite at the Plaza Hotel. Each scene is its own carefully crafted story, and the cast members tell them superbly.

Instead of saving the fireworks for the grand finale, Plaza Suite starts out with them. You can practically smell the sulfurous gunpowder and hear the crackles when Debra Southworth and Jeff Chapman, who play Karen and Sam Nash, clash about the affair Sam is having with his secretary on the day of (or maybe it's the day before) their anniversary, in the very room (or maybe it's the floor below) where they spent their honeymoon. But this is not a predictable argument. Karen is a little too permissive for Sam's taste, and Sam sometimes finds himself trying to goad his wife into excoriating him. At one point during the argument, after half-heartedly (but creatively -- it is Neil Simon) insulting Sam -- at his request -- Karen says, "I take back everything I said. You're a pussycat." Karen seems to recognize that if she makes a big scene, she'll make it easy for Sam to go off to his secretary, and she won't give him the satisfaction. Her refusal to play the game intrigues Sam, who starts to see something in his wife he's never seen before. Southworth and Chapman offer rapid-fire banter and a fascinating dynamic as a long-married couple on the rocks. This is the third time I've seen Southworth onstage, and each time is better than the last. I've never seen Chapman before, but he provided the perfect counterpoint to Southworth; I was not entirely surprised to see his impressive bio.

Next up, Muriel Tate (played by Helene Myers) stops by the hotel to visit her high school sweetheart Jesse Kiplinger (Jeremy Gugino), who grew up to be a famous Hollywood producer while she married another high school beau, raised three children and joined the PTA. I think this is the first time I've actually seen Myers onstage, and I'm glad I had the chance. She was perfect as Muriel, a jumble of raw nerves, descending quickly into the influence of starstruck awe, impetuousness, and far too many vodka stingers. Kiplinger for his part claims he wanted to see Muriel after the disappointments of his failed Hollywood marriages. He says he saw her picture in a newspaper photo of a PTA meeting and realized she was the uncorruptible woman he's been searching for. His claims are somewhat undercut by the amount of time his hand spends on her knee; it's clear he'd like to do some corrupting of his own. Gugino does an excellent job of drawing Muriel in. He and Myers have great chemistry throughout the scene.

In the final scene, Patti O'Hara and Andy Neill, who play Norma and Roy Hubley, try to convince their daughter, who's getting married that day, to come out of the hotel bathroom she's locked herself into. O'Hara, who was excellent when I saw her in Steel Magnolias last year, turns in another great performance, moving easily from strained, barely-held-in-check panic to manic shouts of "Don't you wave your broken arm at me!" to the almost crushing realization that her daughter is afraid of turning into her. I think Neill could have been a little angrier at times. He's a little too soft-spoken when he should be shouting, and it seems hard to believe he could be so angry as to intimidate his wife and back her up against the wall. But he portrays Roy's frustration well, and he has some great facial expressions that really add to some of the scene's moments of physical comedy. The scene has kind of a cheesy ending, but overall it's a nice way to cap off the rest of the evening.

The rest of the cast -- Zach Townsend, Larry Tingler and Allison Berglund -- round out the show nicely.

A few minor criticisms: Southworth and O'Hara both rushed through their phone conversations without providing quite enough time for the person on the other end of the line to respond. I recognize that watching someone listen to the other end of a phone conversation does not make for dynamic theater, but without the pauses the play loses some realism. I also found myself easily distracted by Southworth's semi-translucent gray rubber booties (those are galoshes? I picture the big knee-high black things) and the fact that Gugino's shoes, a topic of conversation at one point, didn't appear to be made of particularly nice leather (the two flaws in an otherwise well costumed show -- I coveted some of those dresses). But sometimes I wonder if maybe I'm a little borderline OCD about things like that (for instance, Chapman's sportcoat collar got partially turned up during the middle of the scene and I could not stop staring at it).


Pat Ryan said...

Lora, Thank you for your review of Boise Little Theater's opening play of its 61st season, Plaza Suite. It is beneficial for community theaters to have people publicize the efforts of those who toil for art's sake!

Anytime someone communicates a thoughtful discussion of his or her observations, it is good. We appreciate your taking the time to come to the play and share your opinion.

In doing so, you will notice generally that our community theaters do not have all the resources of the "professionals" who have large budgets for sets, costumes, and props. It is actually amazing that we can come up with what we do supply.

One expert who writes about theater and directing says that if a director gets 60% of what he wants, he is lucky. I am very fortunate in that I got at least 90% of what I wanted in Plaza Suite.

One caveat, however, is for you as a critic not to get hung up on incidents that happen in one show and are not part of the normal production. If someone has his collar turned up or a cowlick, or a pocket tab tucked in, you have to realize that these things happen in real life as well and we have to fight off being distracted.

And sometimes reviewers fall into the trap that if they say nice things, they need to point out some not so nice.

But thanks for caring enough to write a review. Pat Ryan, Plaza Suite director.

Lora V. said...


Thanks for your comment. I'm glad you enjoy reading my blog.

Maybe I'm being too defensive and thin-skinned, but I felt the need to respond to your judgment of me as a critic:

1) I am well aware of the budget constraints of community theaters. I've assistant-directed, stage managed, and acted and worked backstage in many community theater shows -- even worked on the board of one theater for a few months. But I've also been in Boise Little Theater's enormous costume closet before, and seen its extensive shoe collection. So I believe critiquing the costumes at BLT is fair. Overall, the costumes for your show were fantastic; as I pointed out, I coveted some of those dresses (I am a huge vintage clothes geek, and these were awesome). I'd also like to point out that I qualified the costume criticism as "minor." Which it was.

2) I believe you have misinterpreted my comment about Jeff Chapman's collar sticking up. It was my way of pointing out that I'm probably a little too picky (borderline OCD) about some things like the costumes, mocking myself a little, and emphasizing the fact that the criticisms in that particular paragraph are minor. Of course I am capable of looking past incidents like a turned-up collar or a brief sound flub. If I were not, I would not have been able to write such glowing things about Debra and Jeff's performance, because I would have been too distracted.

3) I'm not going out of my way to create some kind of balance between praise and criticism, good and bad, in my reviews. What I'm trying to do is create an honest review. I've written some reviews on this site that don't have a single bad thing to say about a show at all. If I was the type of person who felt compelled to put some negative criticism in my review, I could have left out the entire final paragraph and still had some criticism in the paragraph about the third scene. But I added the final paragraph because I believe critiquing costumes at a place like BLT is legitimate, and the part about leaving space in phone calls for the other person to speak is basic direction that I've both given and received.

My purpose with these reviews is three-fold. One is to create awareness of the Boise arts community, about which I care deeply. Another is to provide directors and actors with the feedback that many of us crave and that we've been missing since local newspapers have started to cut back their coverage and reviews of community theater. And the third -- closely linked to the second -- is to provide as honest a review as I can.

I'm glad you feel like you got 90% of what you wanted out of the show. You have reason to be so satisfied. It was a great show. Your actors all did wonderful jobs. I'd like to think I conveyed that in my review, too. It wouldn't have been an honest review if I purposely left out criticism I thought was warranted, but it also wouldn't have been an honest review if I focused on that to the exclusion of the wonderful performances. Your cast did a great job and they should be proud.