Neil Simon’s 1976 romp, “California Suite”, takes an entertaining look at the truth that no two marriages are alike as five couples take successive holidays within the walls of suite 203. View More images >>
Presented by the Royal Palm Players, California Suite is divided into four playlets that have in common only their setting in the same suite and their observations of marriage — and, of course, their comedy. This is Neil Simon, after all.
The large cast gives Boca Grande a chance to enjoy the talents of 10 island regulars.
In the first playlet, “Visitor from New York,” Hannah (Ann Fletcher) and Billy (Bob Young) spend an interlude on Thanksgiving Day years after their divorce rediscovering what they once liked about each other.
Hannah and Billy begin by drawing an entertaining contrast between an uptight New Yorker who believes 40 blocks in Manhattan is the center of the universe and a laid-back Californian who has given up smoking, alcohol, pills, and his analyst and is “kinda rusty” on New York banter.
It takes a while for Billy to rise to Hannah’s barbs, and when he does you feel sorry that he’s been yanked out of his bubble of contentment. But Billy sees through Hannah’s banter to the nervousness underneath that her daughter has rejected her, and their banter finally becomes real conversation when she turns to Billy for help. Along the way, they rediscover what they once liked about each other.
In “Visitor from Philadelphia,” Marvin (Dan Heddington) and Millie (Erica Ress Martin) discover what can happen when one of the partners in a solid marriage “slips.” The comedy arises from Marvin’s desperate attempts to hide the inebriated “visitor” in his bed from his wife, who arrives the morning after.
Inexperienced in such situations, and especially inexperienced in lying to his wife, Heddington’s Marvin is nicely befuddled and Martin’s Millie, inexperienced in being lied to, is maddeningly oblivious. They’re a couple to their cores, and Millie knows they’ll always be together.
“Look what happens to us separately,” she whined. “They lose my luggage and you get gastroenteritis.”
We squirm with Marvin, dreading the end of Millie’s trust in their marriage, and when the truth is revealed, we watch the marriage dissolve, and just as quickly reconstitute as the central strength of the relationship rescues it. (Look for a special surprise when the “lump” in Marvin’s bed finally reveals herself.)
In “Visitors from London” we observe the unconventional marriage of Sidney (Jim Cowperthwaite) and Diana (Boots Tolsdorf), who have come to Beverly Hills because Diana has been nominated for an Academy Award. Before the ceremony, Diana is a nervous wreck, and Cowperthwait and Tolsdorf draw an entertaining contrast between her neurotic self-doubt and his casual bemusement.
It is after the ceremony, though, that Tolsdorf steals the show. Drunk and disappointed, she channels Christine Baranski’s best tipsy goofiness, turning an attempt to say “singularly” into about eight syllables.
But in vino veritas, and she broaches the subject they never talk about.
“We keep up our front for everyone else,” Sidney warned. “Why can we do it for ourselves?”
But Diana is determined, and their sweet story reveals that their “arrangement” is actually a real marriage of two people who love each other and like each other, and who have a good time together. That they have to close their eyes to certain realities, as happens in most good marriages, is a minor price to pay.
In “Visitors from Chicago,” the complications of two people in a marriage are doubled as two couples, best friends, come to the end of a long vacation together on the Fourth of July. In a slapstick comedy of errors, Mort (David Jenkins), Beth (Wendy Melvin), Stu (Jim Sullivan), and Gert (Linda Rollyson) make the most of an entertaining series of accidents that result in sprained ankles, cuts, injured “man parts,” loose teeth, and possible concussions.
“It’s like Guadalcanal in here,” one of the men bemoans.
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