The Arlington Players have returned to home base at the newly renovated Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre with "Plaza Suite," one of Neil Simon's old plays that surprisingly is not in need of renovation.
Part of Simon's hotel trilogy (with "London Suite" and "California Suite"), "Plaza Suite" premiered in 1968. Simon was making the transition, he told Newsweek magazine, from asking, "What is a funny situation?" to asking, "What is a sad situation, and how can I tell it humorously?"
That more sophisticated approach is what gave Simon his enduring reputation, and it may be why this play, centered on angst in contemporary relationships, need only change the name of a few outdated references to be relevant today. (Anyone else here remember Metracal or Jade East?)
"Plaza Suite" is actually three one-act plays, each set in Suite 719 at New York's Plaza Hotel. In Simon's original production, the same actors played the male and female leads in each segment, but here, director Arthur Rodger has split the thespian chores, ensuring refreshing changes of tone and pace.
Carol Ratnoff and John McCaffrey are Karen and Sam Nash, in town on the eve of what may or may not be their 25th wedding anniversary. (Karen's not good with numbers.) Karen increasingly takes note of the warning signs that all is not paradise in their union: Sam is unusually fussy about his appearance, watching his weight and having his teeth capped, and he spends a lot of nights "at the office," which is where he plans on going this night -- after shaving.
Ratnoff, an Arlington Players newcomer, is also a stand-up comic, and it shows. She keeps the pace moving rapidly, compensating for her partner, McCaffrey, who projects much less energy and instead concentrates on a low-key characterization of a distracted, neglectful husband. It is a good combination; their talents complement each other.
One begins to care for the two, which makes the ending rather poignant through the laughs. Ratnoff, in particular, uses her expressive face and voice to endear herself to the audience while portraying a whiny character with little self-esteem.
Rodger has choreographed constant motion back and forth between the two spacious rooms of the suite, adding zing to the repartee.
The second segment has the weakest script, and it takes a while to get used to the significantly lower level of energy and movement by Carol Lampman McCaffrey and Danny Funderburk. Funderburk plays a successful, oft-divorced Hollywood producer, and McCaffrey is his high school sweetheart, now married with three kids and still living in New Jersey.
Funderburk's character is manipulative and selfish but still must be likable, or the slightly dark segment will fail entirely. He is aided greatly by McCaffrey's inspired, rubber-limbed portrayal of an awkward bundle of nerves who gradually calms under the influence of her suppressed but awakening libido and copious amounts of vodka.
The third act is strictly for laughs. A bride-to be is locked in the bathroom, while her parents frantically try to stall the wedding guests, fuss at each other and try to persuade her to come out. It is intensely physical, with an outstanding performance from Anne Paine West as the mother of the bride.
West must react to a variety of situations in rapid succession, dealing with restless guests; a domineering, money-obsessed husband; and a noncommunicative daughter. As the husband, Steve McClure underplays many of his lines, missing some opportunities for big laughs.
Juan Felipe Rincon's and Rodger's sprawling set design, probably the size of a real Plaza suite, thanks to the Jefferson's unusually large stage, combines effective realism with cutaway walls that reveal a cityscape beyond, a versatile and attractive space for all the running about.
"Plaza Suite," performed by The Arlington Players, concludes this weekend at the Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre, 125 S. Old Glebe Rd., Arlington. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday. For tickets or information, call 703-549-1063.