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The Suite Life

Facing Life and Each Other in a Quartet of Close-Quarters Encounters

Frank Vince (left) pistol whips Todd Krickler.

By John Barry | Posted 1/14/2009

At first, there's not much in common between the characters who stream through the suites of London's vaunted Connaught Hotel. An angry playwright faces down his manager, who has squandered his royalties. A twentysomething daughter tries to fix up her widowed mother with an eligible bachelor. A somewhat past-prime Hollywood star reunites with the love of her life, a bisexual ex who's now shacked up with a significant other in Greece. And finally, a hassled couple who've come to England clutching two tickets to Wimbledon.

But they do have one thing in common. It's the somewhat staid, alienated, high-end discomfort zone that they spend their time, and this play, in. Quarantined from the outside world, the closed space gives them time to work out problems, settle scores, and tell secrets that they probably wouldn't at home. So the evening moves from melancholy to farce to romantic comedy, in typical Neil Simon fashion, with odd couples and smooth, titillating, Brylcreemed wit.

This evening of four short plays starts slow, but ends with a bang. In the improbable opening skit, where an angry playwright confronts his personal Ponzi, the character borrows heavily from the liquor cabinet for support. In "Going Home," the relationship between mom and daughter has its touching moments, but it stays stiff. But the whiskey keeps flowing and things loosen up. Finally, at the end, Simon pulls out the stops, and characters who used to be standing at different ends of the room end up literally lying there on the floor on top of one another.

Like the characters in Suite, Spotlighters works with the space it has, moving from high drama to hi-jinks, easily and without much sweat. Frank Vince approaches his role as a betrayed playwright with pared down, acerbic sense of timing that served him well in last season's Angels in America. As Mrs. Semple, Hillary Mazer offers a wry but poignant portrait of an older mom who looks like she's being pushed out the door to her junior prom. As her daughter, Megan Rippey plays off her tortuous indecision with calm, but occasionally exasperated, benevolence.

After intermission, in what is easily the evening's most polished performance, Connie Ross (as Diana) and Jonathan Claiborne (as Sidney) milk their characters' awkward dilemma for humor and understated pathos. It should be noted, in fairness, that, according to program notes, this is a reprise of a past Spotlighter's performance done 12 years ago. It may very well have improved with age. If anything, the underlying fondness that the characters feel, even as they're pursuing separate agendas, make this the relationship of the evening.

But when Simon lets everything go off the rails, and the evening descends into slapstick in the final play ("The Man on the Floor"), the ensemble flourishes. As a long-suffering, anxious husband, Todd Krickler gives a memorable and physical portrayal of a guy who's got a psychotherapist wife and a bad back to contend with. In her brief, memorable turn as his wife Annie, Victoria Mansuri manages to evoke 10 years of a crisis-driven marriage.

Now, there was one little problem that the directors Bob Russell and Ivan Lawson should have faced head on. Since the play takes place in London, there are points when Simon calls for Irish, Scottish, Welsh, or English accents. Does that mean you'll get sued if you leave it out? Probably not. Look, if an actor starts out with an Irish brogue and winds up sounding like a taxi driver born in Mumbai, it's pretty certain that, when extended voice-coaching isn't an option, a director should probably stick to the accent they were born with. Enough said.

All that aside, though, the audience response spoke for itself. In the confines of the Spotlighters theater, in an unpretentious, but enjoyable romp, the players showed that, for Simon and for the rest of us, small spaces aren't necessarily prisons. London Suite gives characters, and actors, the chance to approach subjects with an honest but light touch that would be difficult in a full length play. This production certainly used the opportunity to good effect.

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