People have long ponied up for the promise of elegance, familiarity and a bit of gracious pandering, on Broadway as on Central Park South. Throw in the allure of celebrity, and a revival of “Plaza Suite” starring Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker was always going to be a foolproof attraction for those with good old-fashioned money.
But while no one checks into the Plaza Hotel expecting ingenuity or surprise, the production now playing the Hudson Theatre feels remarkably removed from the moment. Is it the two-year pandemic delay? Not quite. Retro gender politics, a cumbersome three-act structure and dusty humor? You’ll find all of that and more on the room service menu.
As a star vehicle, Neil Simon’s mid-century marriage triptych is broad, plodding and low risk, like a fuelless Cadillac rolling down a shallow incline. Directed by John Benjamin Hickey, the production is sturdy and handsomely appointed, but lacks the erratic friction that might propel its comedy on a more rollicking course.
It’s no surprise that the production’s high-voltage stars, who last appeared together on Broadway nearly 30 years ago, have an easy, unassailable chemistry. There’s even a slight air of voyeurism to casting Broderick and Parker to perform husband-and-wife routines, as though they might offer an oblique glimpse inside the couple’s private life. But despite their offstage connection and individual talents, their performances here are out of step.
We’re in Plaza Hotel suite 719 at the the turn of 1968, when the sexual revolution may be roiling downtown but domesticity is still trying to hang on below the park. The first guests we meet are a Westchester couple who’ve been married nearly a quarter century; she’s fastidious and eager to please, he’s oblivious and cheating with his secretary. The second pair is a Hollywood director (smarmy, presumptuous) and his married ex-flame (daffy, starstruck) who’s dropped in from New Jersey for a drink. The third are parents of a Queens bride-to-be who’s locked herself in the bathroom.
Each act gives the performers different parts to play, but only Parker turns hers into distinct characters, embodying each with discerning emotional color and discrete physicality. No stranger to narratives of fraught romance, Parker has a rich and playful vocabulary for communicating the exasperations of desire and heartache. She’s a refreshingly fearless but delicate comedian, as adept at nailing a punchline as revealing the pain underneath it.
While the humor in Parker’s characterizations feels organic to each wife and the corner she’s stuck in, Broderick’s performance is far less varied. The tone of curious befuddlement on which he’s built a decades-long career remains a constant throughout all three acts, as though each husband can’t quite compute how he ended up in his position. Even when he’s done up in Austin Powers drag and laying the seduction on thick, Broderick feels more acted upon than in control (costumes are by Jane Greenwood). It could seem like a broader commentary on the curiosities of masculinity, but there’s an anesthetized quality to his performance that denies much greater complexity.
Though “devoted wife confronts philandering husband” is maybe the most well-worn dynamic of the three, the first act has the most heart and heft, thanks to a performance from Parker that grows both more restless and resigned as the couple’s marriage is tested. The subsequent two scenes have lower stakes and tend to retread the same bits again and again. Will the former high school lovers fall back into bed? Probably. Will the reluctant bride stop hiding on the toilet and march down the aisle? Of course. Who would ghost their own wedding at the Plaza?
Simon’s observations about the contours and trials of marriage — from the waning of attraction to everyday slights and flights of “what if” — will undoubtedly be recognizable to many. Couched inside the ornate walls of designer John Lee Beatty’s impeccably embellished set, they are ordinary truths unfurling against a backdrop of extraordinary luxury — what many guests might hope for in an eventful hotel stay.
But without starry names on the reservation, there would be little to elevate “Plaza Suite” to penthouse prices and sky-high demand. And a stay of its cost and duration ought to deliver a great deal more diversion.
“Plaza Suite” opened at the Hudson Theatre on March 28, 2022.
Creative: Written by Neil Simon; Original Music: Marc Shaiman; Directed by John Benjamin Hickey, Scenic Design by John Lee Beatty; Costume Design by Jane Greenwood; Lighting Design by Brian MacDevitt; Sound Design by Scott Lehrer.
Producers: Ambassador Theatre Group, Gavin Kalin Productions, Hal Luftig, James L. Nederlander, Douglas L. Meyer, Elizabeth Armstrong, Hunter Arnold, Caitlin Clements, Eilene Davidson Productions, Jeffrey Finn, Terry Schnuck, Smith & Brant Theatricals, Sherry and Kirk Wright and Mike Isaacson.
Cast: Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica Parker, Danny Bolero, Molly Ranson, Eric Wiegand. Understudies: Bryan Eng, Olivia Hernandez, Cesar J. Rosado and Laurie Veldheer.