Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Review: Hotel Suite

Hotel Suite, produced by Act II Playhouse, written by Neil Simon, directed by Matt Silva, featuring Karen Peakes, Leonard C. Haas, Tony Braithwaite, Tracie Higgins, reviewed by Wendy Rosenfield

Review: Hotel Suite

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By Wendy Rosenfield

for the Inquirer

In the first vignette of Act II Playhouse's Hotel Suite, Diana Nichols (Karen Peakes) scoffs at her own Oscar nomination. She has done Pinter, Beckett, but what finally hit was this "silly comedy." Her husband Sidney (Leonard C. Haas) responds, "They don't go for quality, love, they go by gross."

If its cast weren't so amiable, the same could be said for Hotel Suite, a "best of" collection that cherry-picks from Neil Simon's other successful Suites (PlazaCaliforniaLondon), slightly retools the dialogue, and creates a pair of neatly matched bookends. Act 1 brings two from the Beverly Hills Hotel, circa 1975. First come the "Visitors from London" on that unlucky Oscar night, during which both statuette and Sidney slip through Diana's fingers. The second features "Visitors from Philadelphia," the Hubleys, in town for a bar mitzvah, who arrive on separate flights a day apart. Marvin (Tony Braithwaite), first to land, awakes to find a stubbornly sleepy prostitute beside him, followed soon after by wife Millie's (Tracie Higgins) knock on the hotel room door.

In Act 2, 1984, the Nicholses, long divorced, reunite for one evening in London, while back in New York at the Plaza the Hubleys attempt to marry off their reluctant daughter, who has locked herself in the bathroom and refuses to come out. The Hubley saga, enhanced by Braithwaite and Higgins' raucous comic sensibilities and sharp timing (an opening-night snafu - a broken phone cord - inspired hilarious ad libs from both) makes for a diverting couple of trifles.

The Nicholses bring a deeper, more cutting humor to their segments, and here, balancing the shifts in their power dynamic, Matt Silva's direction and Peakes and Haas' easy camaraderie shine brightest. As it becomes increasingly clear that Sidney's bisexuality is resolving itself, and not in her favor, Diana lobs ever nastier grenades. But Peakes lets the desperation show in her eyes, underscoring the viciousness with a winning vulnerability. As a counterpoint, Haas initially shrinks under her attacks, but as Sidney becomes more comfortable with himself, he's a calming, understated presence.

The whole endeavor is Simon's paean to compromise thematically and structurally - after all, compromise and marriage go together like, well, you know - and I guess it's Act II's as well. People like what they like, and while it's old news, this arrangement contains a still-relevant, if musty, discussion of how those vows have and haven't changed since Simon's first check-in.

Through March 23 at Act II Playhouse, 56 E. Butler Ave., Ambler. Tickets: $23-$34. Information: 215-654-0200 or


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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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