Give credit where it’s due to Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick for their unshakable commitment to New York theater. In March 2020, “Plaza Suite” was on the verge of beginning preview performances when the shutdown occurred. During the months that followed, the married pair never wavered and firmly insisted that this Broadway revival of Neil Simon’s 1968 comedy (in which they co-star as different couples in three different one-act plays) would return when Broadway reopened – and indeed it finally has.
There has not been a Neil Simon comedy on Broadway since 2009, when a revival of “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” one of Simon’s finest plays, quickly flopped. Simon Little was even done to mark the playwright’s passing in 2018 at age 91.
According to gross and attendance numbers, “Plaza Suite” (which is relatively modest in size and scale) has been selling out preview performances and taking in as much money as much as some major musicals. Is it the appeal of seeing Parker and Broderick together onstage (for the first time in 25 years), or is it sometime else that runs deeper?
In the midst of domestic political tensions, overseas conflict, the pandemic, and emotionally-charged cultural debates, “Plaza Suite” offers sitcom comedy, sharp one-liners, sentimental and nostalgic touches, straightforward direction (by actor John Benjamin Hickey), and performances by two familiar stage and screen stars. It’s the equivalent of feel-good comfort food, like grandma’s chicken noodle soup – at least until it becomes clear that the production is not as good as it ought to be.
I’ll admit that I was won over by “Visitor from Mamaroneck,” the first, and the longest, of the play’s three one-acts, which are all set in a posh suite on the seventh floor of the Plaza Hotel (back in the days when it was still a fully-functioning luxury hotel). Parker is playfully endearing as a quirky middle-aged woman trying to get her mopey, self-absorbed husband excited on their wedding anniversary, only to see their relationship fall apart by the end of the night.
The second one-act, “Visitor from Hollywood,” in which Broderick plays a movie producer trying to seduce his old high school girlfriend, does not sit well today, especially following the troubling revelations of what a real-life, once-powerful movie producer would try to do to women in hotel rooms. Judging by their strained expressions, Parker and Broderick are probably uncomfortable with the piece themselves. Considering that the production runs nearly three hours in total, maybe it should have been cut.
“Visitor from Forest Hills,” the last, and the funniest, one-act, depicts a married couple desperately trying to coax their daughter (who has inexplicably barricaded herself in the bathroom) to return to her wedding downstairs. While the laughs are still there, it does not reach the comic heights the piece is capable of achieving, primarily because of Broderick.
If Broderick’s work in the first one-act is at least passable, his subsequent performances are just bewildering, resembling a robotic version of Leo Bloom (his socially awkward character from “The Producers”). He slowly recites his lines, as if in a sort of mental daze. Ironically, Broderick once excelled in Neil Simon comedy, appearing in the original productions of “Brighton Beach Memoirs” and “Biloxi Blues.”
“Plaza Suite” runs through June 26 at the Hudson Theatre, 141 W. 44th St., plazasuitebroadway.com.