Rough Magic revive last summer’s sell-out production of Neil Simon’s 1968 comedy, and bring it from seaside Dun Laoghaire to town. It’s a more commercial production than we have come to expect of this company, but Simon’s sitcom-sharp dialogue and comic scenarios are in safe hands with such able and experienced performers as Karen Ardiff, Darragh Kelly, Stephen Brennan and Eleanor Methven.
The play is really three plays in one, each set in suite 719 of the Plaza Hotel, New York. Three couples find themselves playing out three unexpected but pivotal dramas that encapsulate their apparently stable lives, but also threaten to destroy them altogether. ‘The world can’t change for an hour – can it?’, one of the hotel’s guests pleads, only half-seriously, and the point of each of these dramas is that it need not even take an hour.
The focus is, however, less on change than on familiar repetition, undertaken with determination. A wife’s romantic gesture of booking what had been their honeymoon suite for an overworked husband in the throes of a midlife crisis sours as his dedication to work turns out to hide something even more disappointingly stereotypical. Champagne for one is a challenge the fast-talking Karen Nash (Karen Ardiff) manages to pull off with style as well as pathos.
Perhaps the funniest is the second play, a two-hander between Darragh Kelly’s Mr Hotshot Hollywood Producer, wearied by three failed marriages and the phoniness of Hollywood, and his childhood sweetheart Muriel Tate (played with great verve and energy by Ali White), with whom he claims to desire an innocent, undemanding connection with a pure-hearted woman. Muriel, however, is married with three children, an uncaring husband and a lively drink habit; she finds her escape in Hollywood fantasy and gossip, and the connection she and Jesse Kiplinger might just make is one of fantasy, the natural habitat of each of them.
The physical comedy of the third act benefits from its position directly after the interval, riding the wave of the audience gaiety that a couple of Muriel’s vodka stingers can produce. A nervous bride locks herself in the bathroom of suite 719, and it is left to her hapless, increasingly frenzied parents (played by the reliably funny Eleanor Methven and Stephen Brennan) to try to coax her out to the expensive wedding due to take place downstairs.
Unusually for them, and given the production history of this rather slight but funny play, Rough Magic have chosen not to mobilize the deeply-buried threads linking the three Acts or playlets by doubling up the casting. They do, however, set a different young director loose on each Act. If Matt Torney goes for all-out physical comedy and slapstick with the final Act in contrast to Sophie Motley’s more restrained social comedy in the opening, the direction as a whole is of a piece, not especially ambitious but well-handled. The accents jar at times, though when they slip altogether as they do with Brennan’s maddened father, we get a brief and unexpectedly tantalizing glimpse of what a more updated and domesticated version might look like in an Irish context.
The plush set glows with walnut and gold hues, and the hoops of the interfacing dressing-table mirrors at the centre echo the social and economic hoops that these characters have all successfully negotiated – but to no great satisfaction to them. Sam Nash, fighting off his fifties with a 900-calorie diet and a manic dedication to work and his washboard stomach, just wants to do it all again. If the laconic young groom of the final Act is anything to go by, though, he – like all of the occupants of suite 719 – would be well advised to enjoy what he has.