Sunday, March 18, 2018

Applause! Applause! Review of Neil Simon's Plaza Suite at The Gallery Players by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Neil Simon's Plaza Suite at The Gallery Players was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 8 (2018) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Plaza Suite
Written by Neil Simon
Directed by Alexander Harrington
Scenic Design by Robert Sebes
Costume Design by Jerry Mittelhauser
Lighting Design by Heather Crocker
The Gallery Players
199 14th Street
Park Slope, New York 11215
Reviewed 3/17/18

Plaza Suite opened on Broadway at the Plymouth Theatre on February 14, 1968, and closed on October 3, 1970, after 1,097 performances and two previews. Mike Nichols won the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play. The three stories told all involve different characters, performed by some of the same actors, who are staying in Suite 719 of New York City's Plaza Hotel. In Visitor From Mamaroneck, we are introduced to Sam Nash (Robert McEvily) and Karen Nash (Alyssa Simon), a not-so-happily married couple. Karen suspects Sam is having an affair with Jean McCormack (Taylor Graves), his Secretary. Karen has rented the suite as a last-ditch effort to save their marriage. Jim deProphetis was hilarious as the bellhop. In Visitor From Hollywood, Jesse Kiplinger (Robert McEvily), a successful Hollywood producer who lives in Humphrey Bogart's old home in Beverly Hills, has invited the now-married Muriel Tate (Taylor Graves), his old High School girlfriend from Tenafly, New Jersey, to visit him in his hotel room. He has seduction on his mind while Muriel is doing her best to say and do what would be proper in those compromising circumstances. Mitch Tebo played the waiter in both stories. In Visitor From Forest Hills, the most hilarious of the three, Roy Hubley (Mitch Tebo) and his wife Norma Hubley (Alyssa Simon) find that their daughter, Mimsey (Taylor Graves) has locked herself in the bathroom minutes before she is set to marry Borden Eisler (Jim deProphetis). It appears nothing will get her out of the locked bathroom until her boyfriend Borden is called to the suite and mentions the magic words that resolve the crisis. No, not "I love you." 

Visitor From Mamaroneck reminds us how people, over time, can get on each other's nerves. Cute little idiosyncrasies and adorable habits can become intolerable points of torture whether we are talking about close friends or married couples. In Karen's case, she is cheap ("I don't usually give a dollar tip.); talks to strangers, like the waiter, about personal details regarding her family; annoys her husband by singing loudly in the background when he is on a business call; orders champagne and hors d'oeuvres when she knows her husband is on a 900-calorie-a-day diet; urges him to abandon his work to take her to a porn movie; deliberately doesn't pack his pajamas knowing he can't sleep without them; and constantly gets dates and facts wrong such as the date on which they were married, her age, and even the correct suite they stayed in on their honeymoon. Their marriage hasn't been a happy one for many years and Sam has become increasingly distant even to the point of being nasty. He even blows up at Karen's relatively calm reaction to his responses to her accusations. The funniest line in this otherwise serious story is when Karen surmises his affair may have started after he turned 50 years old, and suggests that if his secretary wasn't readily available, he might have even had an affair with the elevator operator in his office building. Sam's response, "It couldn't have been the elevator operator. He's 52 and I don't go for older men."

Visitor From Hollywood reminds us that in the old days, a single or married woman, should not go to the hotel suite of another man, especially an old boyfriend unless she has sex on her mind. In this story, Jesse Kiplinger (Robert McEvily) has invited Muriel Tate (Taylor Graves), his old High School girlfriend, to meet him while he is in New York. Muriel has closely followed Jesse's career and fantasizes what her life would have been like had she not married Larry. Before the #MeToo movement, it was a man's job to try to seduce and sleep with as many women as he could, and it was a woman's job to avoid comprising situations and circumstances. In addition, many times "No" did not really mean "No" since women were expected not to give in too easily. In this case, Muriel says all the right things, such as "I can only stay a few minutes" and " I really have to go. I am parked in a one-hour zone." Yet she finally accepts two Vodka Stingers and rejects going down to the bar to drink them. Despite her objection, Jesse kisses Muriel on the neck and then says, "If you don't object too strenuously, I'm going to kiss you again." Her response starts to change and eventually she says "I have plenty of time." and "Don't bite my neck. It will leave marks." Jesse eventually figures out Muriel gets sexually turned on when he mentions the names of celebrities he has met. He then uses that bat to hit a home run. So much for feigned resistance.

Visitor From Forest Hills was my favorite of the three. The reactions of the two parents, Roy Hubley (Mitch Tebo) and Norma Hubley (Alyssa Simon) as they try to get their daughter Mimsey (Taylor Graves) out of the locked bathroom are priceless. It involves pigeons, a gargoyle, a torn stocking, a ripped jacket, a broken diamond ring, a suspected broken arm, thunder, rain, and a possible lawsuit. With all the havoc Mimsy has created, you reach a point when you wish she'd just "cool it.' 

This production of Neil Simon's Plaza Suite is a must-see. The material holds up well and the acting is amazing. The entire ensemble cast is top-notch. You will have no complaints. I hesitate to point anyone out because I don't want to diminish the stellar, professional performances of the rest of the cast, but I do feel that Mitch Tebo as Roy Hubley in Visitor From Forest Hills was so exceptional that he deserves special mention. In my opinion, he could use a video of his performance in this show as a tape he can submit for his next Broadway audition. The show is extremely entertaining. I highly recommend you see this old gem while you can. Plaza Suite runs at The Gallery Players through Sunday, March 25, 2018. Tickets are $25.00 for Adults and $20.00 for Children 12 and under and Senior Citizens. For reservations, call 212-352-3101 or visit 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Applause! Applause! Review of Theatre By The Bay's production of Beau Jest at the Bay Terrace Garden Jewish Center by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Theatre By The Bay's production of Beau Jest at the Bay Terrace Garden Jewish Center was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 8 (2018) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Beau Jest
Book by James Sherman
Directed by Patrice Valenti
Set Design by John Baratta & Lila Edelkind
Artistic Director: Cathy Chimenti
Producers: Eli Koenig, Barbara Koenig & Martha Stein
Theatre By The Bay
Bay Terrace Garden Jewish Center
13-00 209th Street
Bayside, New York 11360
Reviewed 3/10/18

The underlying French phrase "beau geste" is defined by as "a fine or noble gesture, often futile or only for effect." In Beau Jest, a comedy written by James Sherman, Sarah Goldman (Nili Resnick) hires Bob Schroeder (Stephen Kalogeras), a male escort from the Heaven Sent Escort Agency, to play Dr. David Steinberg, a Jewish boyfriend she made up to please her parents, Abe Goldman (Robert Budnick) and Miriam Goldman (Amy Goldman), who have been on her back to date "a nice Jewish boy." Sarah hires Bob to attend her father's birthday party in her apartment only to discover upon his arrival that Bob is not even Jewish. Bob qualified to be an escort because he spoke "good English" and owned a suit. This "jack of all trades" was also a bartender, a massage therapist, and luckily for Sarah, a part-time actor who is convinced he can play a believable Jewish doctor (i.e. a surgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital) and complete the assignment. Cast aside in all this is Chris Cringle (Kyle T. Cheng), an advertising account executive at Leo Burnett, who Sarah has been secretly dating for six months. Sarah told her parents she broke up with Chris after they objected to his being Christian, and in this production, also Asian. Chris, of course, is not pleased Sarah feels uncomfortable introducing him as her current boyfriend but is also especially concerned after she doesn't tell him she loves him in the presence of Bob. Also in the mix is Joel Goldman (Robert Gold), Sarah's divorced brother, who is a therapist. 

Beau Jest first premiered on November 16, 1989 at the Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago. The play is set in Chicago with references to the now defunct Marshall Field's department store, Kaufman's Bagel & Delicatessen (in Skokie), Second City (where Bob took acting lessons), and to the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse. The action takes place in Sarah's one-bedroom apartment in the Lincoln Park area of Chicago, where parking is a nightmare. Sarah is a kindergarten teacher who has no idea what her end-game is. She re-hires Bob to attend the second night of Passover Seder, but he is becoming increasingly uncomfortable about deceiving Sarah's parents. Complicating matters further, Bob and Sarah are beginning to develop feelings for one another, setting up a classic love triangle, which pays off in the expected, confrontation near the end of the second act as the boyfriends try to out-do one another by expressing their willingness to convert and take other steps that will prove the intensity and sincerity of their love.  The only thing not produced was a ruler, which was unnecessary since Sarah already slept with both men multiple times. In the end, the final decision has to be made by Sarah, who realizes she must live her life as she sees fit and not to please, or avoid displeasing, her parents. The play reflects universal themes regarding relationships between parents and their children. 

Clues that Dr. David Steinberg (Bob) is not a surgeon and not Jewish are everywhere but no one seems to pick up on them. When Sarah's mother observes he doesn't look Jewish and asks if he is Sephardic, Bob responds, "No. Jewish." When asked by Sarah's father where "salmonella" comes from, Bob responds "it is caused by a very special bacteria that gets into the salmon." Sarah is very well aware of the fact that she hired Bob and knows what he does for a living. She asks Bob to help her set the dinner table and then after the family leaves, she invites Bob to give her a neck massage by telling him how "tense" she is and how when she tried out for the swimming team, "they used me as a diving board." The point of the play is to suggest that "the only person preventing you from living your own life is you!" Joel Goldman says that many of his clients "blame all their problems on their parents" and his advice to them is "Get Over It." In the end, Sarah tries to improve her relationship with her parents, and her mother eventually tells her, "Whatever you want to do, you do!" even if that means microwaving dishes instead of putting them in the oven.

The four main leads in this production of Beau Jest are all amazingly talented actors. I particularly enjoyed the performance of Stephen Kalogeras, who played Bob Schroeder/Dr. David Steinberg. Nili Resnick was very believable as the immature Sarah, making up stories as she goes along without regard for the consequences of her lies or who she hurts. Robert Budnick and Amy Goldman exhibited great rapport as Mr. & Mrs. Goldman often arguing like an old married couple. Robert Gold wasn't bad portraying Joel Goldman, Sarah's brother, but it wasn't clear from his facial expressions when he started to doubt whether Bob was really a doctor or even Jewish. The only sub-par performance in this production was that of Kyle T. Cheng, who played Chris Cringle. While I understand his character was supposed to be a more reserved, less exciting, account executive, I felt his acting did not convincingly portray his feelings for Sarah. Sometimes non-traditional casting works and can provide a whole new perspective on a role. In this case, it didn't work and detracted from my enjoyment of an otherwise delightful and engaging show. 

I strongly recommend you make every effort to catch Beau Jest during its final weekend at Theatre By The Bay. Performances are on Saturday, March 17th at 8:30 p.m., and Sunday, March 18th at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are available for $22.00 for adults, and $20.00 for seniors ages 62 and over, and children ages 12 and under. For more information, or to purchase your seats, call 718-428-6363, or visit