April 27 2016 12:22 AM

Neil Simon classic tackles romance with humor, pessimism

He’s won more awards than any American playwright. He’s authored over 30 hit plays and had almost that number made into films. He is the only living playwright with a theater named after him. It’s called the Neil Simon Theatre.

Now comes this humble critic’s review of the theater god’s “Plaza Suite”—with hopes I will be spared any lightning strikes.

The three-act “Plaza Suite,” staged by the Owosso Community Players, has oodles of Simon trademarks: elements of comedy and drama, big city and common folk themes and a script packed with both wisecracks and gut-wrenching dialogue.

Sitting through the serious parts was as easy as watching a cheating spouse have an affair or listening to loveless couples argue with each other — which is fitting, because both are key themes in “Plaza Suite. Although the play was filled with comedic zingers delivered competently by the talented cast, I’ll long remember how its pessimism made any prolonged laughter something to long for.

All three acts takes place in room 719 of a swank New York hotel in the late ‘60s. None end with especially cheery conclusions. The first stars Lyn Freeman and Artis White as a couple on the brink of divorce. Both actors sailed through Simon’s rapid-fire dialogue with few opening-night stumbles. The duo exhibited a genuine charm while playing a wife and husband who were anything but charming.

Act two was more fun. Jesse Kiplinger (Quentin Brainerd II) plays an athlete-turned-mega-movie-producer intent on seducing a former high school sweetheart, Muriel Tate (Casey Voss), Brainerd somehow makes the pompous predator likable. The retro clothes and references in the second act added to its appeal. In other acts, however, I found Simon’s decades-old allusions a bit dated.

The final act makes the plays preceding uncomfortable moments worth sitting through. Timothy Ruwart, as an agitated dad on his daughter’s wedding day, delivered classic Simon slapstick with a finesse that will stick with me. Connie Curran-Oesterle gave a show-stealing performance as a frantic Jewish mother — another Simon staple. The set for “Plaza Suite,” was, well, sweet.

I couldn’t imagine Simon having any disappointments with the elaborate and detailed set. Even the door had a hotel-style handle and room number. Realistic windows, elegant furniture and rotary-dial phones were refined touches.

Some awkward blocking in front of an imaginary middle wall and some movement of the actual walls in the final act were minor distractions to the stage’s realism. I did have trouble ignoring Noah Clayton’s modern, military-style haircut in his roles as a 1960’s bellhop and groom, as well as Voss’s visible foot tattoo in her role as the bland, small town mom.

Overall, the professionalism and quality was admirable. This production of “Plaza Suite,” with its meticulous set, perfect costuming, period hair and skilled acting, should please theater buffs and Simon devotees alike.

“Plaza Suite”

Owosso Community Players
8 p.m. Friday, April 29 and Saturday, May 30; 3 p.m Sunday, May 1
$15/$13.50 seniors and students/$7.50 children
The Lebowsky Center 122 E. Main St., Owosso
(989) 723-4003, owossoplayers.com

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