June 17 2009 12:00 AM

Summer Circle off to good start with Simon classic


As the summer sun begins to set, the spotlight is on Michigan State University’s Summer Circle Theatre. This year’s troupe threw the first pitch of MSU’s 49th summer season last week with the Neil Simon classic “Plaza Suite,” a comedy of three acts that all occur in an expensive New York hotel room. Though Simon’s material is all set in the 1960s and ‘70s, “Plaza Suite” remains relevant, as he verbally maneuvers through the humor and absurdity of human relations.

The first scene features a married couple on the eve of their wedding anniversary, one for which Mrs. Nash (Michelle Meredith) has planned extensively, and from which Mr. Nash (Joel King) is sadly distant. Meredith’s portrayal of Karen Nash was like a helium-filled balloon, initially flying high with the expectations of the evening and slowly dropping, as the realization of her husband’s distance and betrayal deflated her. By scene’s end, she hovered in sadness just a foot above ground. King equally played his part as the grouchy Sam Nash, who at first appeared merely inconsiderate of his wife’s feelings, until the truth was finally pried from his mouth. Meredith’s charming pluckiness balanced King’s crotchety egoism in a manner that pushed the scene all the way to its inevitable, heartbreaking end. Only the transitional music of Josh Groban was successful in breaking the beautiful, somber tone, replacing it with cheese.

The next act featured smooth-talking Hollywood producer Jesse Kiplinger (Samuelle L. Clark) out to reacquaint himself with a girlfriend (Allie Reid) from his former life in small-town New Jersey. Clark and Reid worked well together, with Reid delivering deadpan quips to Clark’s sultry come-ons. However, for as much sexual tension as there is in the lines, Clark and Reid never pushed the scene fast enough to make the stage sizzle, leaving the audience waiting for the next Groban-laced transition.

In the final vignette, Vinnie Mascola and Kate Kilpatrick frantically worked to pry their daughter from the hotel bathroom, so she could be wed without wasting their expensive day. They turn up their voices and physical antics, running from door to door to phone with futile attempts at stalling the wedding. As fun as it was watching the actors exhaust themselves, the funniest moments came when Mascola’s character calms down briefly to declare that he had done his best at parenting while implying Kilpatrick’s may not have. The resolution comes with a twist.

Director Anne Levy gave the actor’s believable blocking within the limits of the multi-purpose set, but some movements worked better than others, leaving the play in solid if inconsistent shape. Karen Kangas-Preston’s costume design was at peak in the 1960s dresses worn by the female characters.

“Plaza Suite” was a commendable opening show for this year’s Summer Circle players. Simon might seem a safe bet for the stage, but this show was a great choice for this group of actors.