Jeff Smith noon, March 8
California Suite at Scripps Ranch Theatre
Neil Simon set his 1968 comedy, Plaza Suite, at New York's Plaza Hotel. As if the Left Coast demanded equal time, Simon wrote California Suite (1976). In four one-acts, guests at the Beverly Hills Hotel unravel amid elegance.
"Visitor from New York": Hannah Warren (Julie Anderson Sachs), speed-demon editor of Newsweek, battles with ex-husband, screenwriter William (Eddie Yaroch) over visitation rights for their teenage daughter.
"Visitor from Philadelphia": faithful hubby Marvin Michaels (Bernard X. Kopsho) awakens to find a.) it's 11:00 a.m., and b.) Bunny, a dead drunk hooker, is buried under the sheets - and his wife Millie (Susan Clauson Andrews) is on her way from LAX.
"Visitors from London": Academy Award night, pre- and post-. British nominee Diana Nichols (Teri Brown), preps for the event with husband Sidney (Brian Salmon); they return, sloshed, around 3:00 a.m.
"Visitors from Chicago": the Franklins and Hollenders decided to vacation together. Bad idea: by the time they reach Beverly Hills, they aren't just on each others nerves, they're crawling inside.
Simon builds much of the humor on cheap stereotypes: NYC vs. LA. So we are health nuts, morally lax, guru-guided spaceballs. The subtext's the biggest joke, though: all visitors are from out of town. Once at the hotel, they make locals look downright sane.
Simon also relies on his fire and fall back pattern. When Marvin missteps, for example, he retreats guilt-laden to the status quo. Simon does the same with the one-acts: push confrontations to the point of deep revelation, then pull away and tie things together with convenient bows. His mode in California Suite - and Plaza Suite, for that matter - is aggressive/passive.
The script calls for a posh combination living room/bedroom. Scenic designer Chad G. Dellinger delivers with creamy lemon walls, shiny leather upholstery, and nothing out of place. Though the lighting's on the bright side, Melissa Coleman-Reed's smart costumes range from sportswear to Diana's gown for the Red Carpet, and its ungainly, Quasimodo hump. Jason Connors' background music's familiar oldies, like Tom Jones' "It's Not Unusual," Muzak'd.
Although the actors often begin with mid-to-late scene intensities, performances range from competent to impressive: Salmon's Sidney, dry as an arid martini in "London"; Andrews's initially gentle Millie, arcing from shock to stability in "Philadelphia"; and the quartet's knockabout timing and physicality in the trash the suite farce "Chicago."