GLT to present Neil Simon comedy about relationships

Greenwood Little Theatre will kick off its new season with the Neil Simon comedy “Plaza Suite.”

Directed by Paul Brown, the play will feature three separate acts involving different characters and storylines. The common thread of each act is the setting — a suite at the Plaza Hotel in New York City.

Director, Paul Brown

Director, Paul Brown

“‘Plaza Suite’ is a very typical Neil Simon play,” said Brown. “There’s a lot of sight humor, a lot of intellectual humor and puns all through. ... It’s three completely different styles of comedy, and they go together pretty well.”

The play is set in the early 1970s.

The first act features longtime married couple Sam and Karen Nash (Bobby VanDevender and Connie Black). Karen books the suite to try to rekindle a spark in their marriage, since that’s where the couple stayed during their honeymoon. A self-absorbed Sam, however, has forgotten that it’s their anniversary.

During the second act, the audience is introduced to a womanizing Hollywood hotshot, Jesse Kiplinger (VanDevender), who is a successful movie producer. While staying at the Plaza Suite, the native Northeasterner has an encounter with his former high school flame — Muriel Tate (Christi Carroll), who is now a wife and mother. Comedy ensues as Jesse attempts to seduce Muriel.

Brown said that the final act is the most physical farce out of the three. The act involves married couple Roy and Norma Hubley (Eddie Amelung and Freda MacIntosh) on their daughter Mimsey’s wedding day. Mimsey has locked herself in the bathroom of the suite as wedding guests wait for the ceremony to begin in the ballroom of the Plaza Hotel. The couple frantically tries to get their daughter out of the bathroom.

“Because you get a variety of comedy, I think there’s something in it for everybody,” Brown said. “If you like intellectual humor, if you like the farcical slapstick humor, if you like risqué humor, it’s all there.”

The director said “Plaza Suite” focuses on relationships and marriage.

“Neil Simon sort of takes those challenging and difficult moments that occur within marriage and makes them funny,” said Brown.

Until this season, Brown had only directed musicals or served as the music director for shows at the Greenwood Little Theatre. This will be his first time to direct a play.

“I wanted to do something where I could put all my energy into acting, blocking and the set,” said Brown.

Last season, Brown directed “The Producers,” a musical with a cast of 15 that also included a men’s and a women’s ensemble.

Brown said that the GLT hit was a “huge undertaking.” So for his first play to direct, he wanted a production with a small cast.

“Greenwood Little Theatre has a long history of performing Neil Simon plays, and his plays are so community theater accessible,” he said. “I knew that I had enough experience with Neil Simon that I just decided I would try to find one of his plays that would work for us.”

“Plaza Suite,” which features a cast of seven, has not been performed at the Little Theatre since 1971.

It debuted on Broadway in 1968. In a review, Time magazine called the play “an avalanche of hilarity.” That year, the play’s Broadway director, Mike Nichols, won the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play, and Simon was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play. “Plaza Suite” was later made into a movie starring Walter Matthau.

For Greenwood Little Theatre’s upcoming production, Brown opted not to modernize the play, keeping the set, decor and clothing all reflective of the early 1970s.

“It’s been very popular to take stuff that was written decades ago and modernize it, but I think you lose the charm when you do that,” he said. “I didn’t want this play to lose its vintage charm.”

Brown said that since working on “Plaza Suite,” he’s noticed several differences between directing a musical and directing a play.

“With a musical, the music conveys everything,” he said. “If there’s a change in emotion, the music changes or the tempo changes or the key changes. You don’t have that with a play. The actors don’t have the music to help them make those choices. They have to make those choices on their own.”

Having a cast of many veteran GLT performers has helped Brown ease into directing a play.

“It’s a really good group of actors who are very easy to direct,” said Brown. “It’s been fun, and it’s been challenging. But for my first play that I’m directing, I’m proud of it.”

“Plaza Suite” contains some adult language. Parental guidance is suggested.

To purchase tickets, season memberships or make seat reservations, visit www.greenwoodlittletheatre.com or call 947-1075. Tickets may be purchased at the door for $15 for adults and $10 for those under 21.

Alicia Dallas