The landmark Plaza Hotel in New York City has undergone some changes. Once strictly a hotel, it now also offers condominium apartments in its 20-story structure Manhattan structure.
Fortunately, Neil Simon’s “Plaza Suite” remains the same – its poignant moments mostly overshadowed by humor.
The play, which opened on Broadway in 1968 starring Maureen Stapleton and George C. Scott, consists of three acts. They’re all set in the same suite in the Plaza, concern fraught relationships, and have “Visitor from” in their titles.
Otherwise, though, the acts are discrete: a long-married couple tries to revive their dying spark; a man tries to seduce his childhood sweetheart, and the parents of a bride try to coax her out of the bathroom where she’s locked herself.
Sandy Spring Theatre Group, which had submitted a proposal to the Arts Barn in Gaithersburg to present “Plaza Suite,” is about to open with it.
“The challenge is to maintain the comedy but also create real characters,” said Director Bruce Hirsch.
“It’s easy to slip into broad comedy strokes with Neil Simon.”
Although in the original Broadway production (and in some contemporary ones), the same two actors appeared in all three acts, Hirsch opted for three separate casts.
Kryss Lacovaro Curtis portrays Muriel in Act II – the darkest of the three segments. When she arrives at the hotel to meet her childhood sweetheart, the two, unfortunately, are at cross-purposes: she wants a chat, and he’s bent on seduction.
The actor came to “Plaza Suite” sight-unseen.
“One of my favorite things is to know nothing about a play [ahead of time],” she said. “I enjoy a cold reading.”
Lacovaro Curtis was also drawn to the fact that Hirsch, whom she had worked with before, is directing.
“I’ve enjoyed getting to know Muriel more,” she said. “She’s not as innocent as I originally thought, and she’s not naive. She’s of her day and age – the ’60s.”
In Act III, the “most-farcical” of the three, according to Hirsch – married couple Norma and Roy (played by Susan Paisner and Jim Kitterman) are pitted against their daughter, who has extreme pre-wedding jitters.
Partly, said Hirsch, those jitters are based on the kind of relationship her parents have – not always placid.
Kitterman described Roy’s personality as “a little bit explosive. He enjoys annoying his wife, and she enjoys annoying him, after 20+ years of marriage.”
In contrast, he said, the daughter, Mimsy, has Roy wrapped around her finger. He sees her wedding day tenderly, though he keeps reminding everyone how much it costs.
Still, “he really cares about his family,” Kitterman said.
Paisner, the Norma, said she “loves doing comedy” – to the point of excluding other theatrical genres.
“The third act of ‘Plaza Suite’ is a riot,” she said. “And the role of an older Caucasian woman is not always easy to find.”
For all the humor of “Plaza Suite,” it still presents challenges. One is that as the mother of the bride (Paisner) is required to wear high heels, whereas her usual foot garb is Nikes.
“Then there are physical aspects of comedy in the play I haven’t done much before. I’m running after Roy a lot to stop him from doing things. It’s not a static play,” she said.
Unlike Lacovaro Curtis, Kitterman was familiar with “Plaza Suite” before auditioning. But he deliberately avoided seeing the film version — with Walter Matthau as the male star of all three acts, with three different women playing opposite him.
“I wanted to see how the characters are [for myself],” he said. “Neil Simon is a terrific writer, and this is a great comedy.”
“Plaza Suite” runs Feb. 8-24, at the Arts Barn, 311 Kent Square Rd., Gaithersburg.
For more information, call 301-258-6394. www.sandyspringtheatregroup.org.