Neil Simon wrote a lot of plays I admire and have watched with pleasure multiple times. But inevitably there are some that appeal to me more than others. I saw the original production of Plaza Suite. It was directed by Mike Nichols and starred George C. Scott and Maureen Stapleton. I saw it from standing room. That’s how much I wanted to see it. After Barefoot in the Park and The Odd Couple and Little Me (which is tied with A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum as the funniest musical I know), I was a fan. But something about Plaza Suite struck me as sour when I first saw it and still does.
Seeing the revival at the Hudson Theater recently (starring Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker) clarified my problem: I intensely disliked all of the characters Broderick played. I didn’t dislike Broderick; I disliked the adulterous jerk, the crass Hollywood producer and the bullying father. I’m not saying that one has to like all of the characters in a play. Far from it. But when you’re watching something designed to make you laugh, it’s hard – in a bill of three plays – to feel such distaste for all three of the characters who drive the action.
Though I saw the original production more than 40 years ago, I do remember George C. Scott’s very different take on the three roles. His adulterer was clearly self-loathing, his producer was a blonde monster of narcissism and appetite, and his father’s rage bordered on the homicidal. In other words, though he may not have been playing sympathetic characters, he was dangerous, and danger can be compelling. Broderick is never dangerous. He specializes in characters who have never matured. He does his best work as the producer, making him overconfident and sly, and he has some marvelous bits of physical comedy courtesy shoes that refuse to muster traction with the carpets. Overall, though, I thought pegging all three characters on their immaturity was repetitious.
Parker was more versatile than I expected. Though I think she would be well rid of her crummy husband, I felt for her abandonment. As the old girlfriend the producer lays siege to, she expressed her conflicting impulses with movements that frequently belied her words, and she coped with her husband and daughter’s idiocy in the third play with admirable self-possession.
I must report that the audience around me had a terrific time. So my reservations should be viewed as a minority report.