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 (Plaza, California, London), 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 www.Act2.org.