Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick sparkle in ‘Plaza Suite’ on Broadway
The Daily Beast
March 28, 2022
SJP and Broderick are married in real life, but do not play up to their coupledom or fame in a charming Broadway revival of Neil Simon’s uneven trio of playlets, “Plaza Suite.”
Broadway’s handsomely renovated Hudson Theatre is that rare performing space where a glass of champagne comes in a glass flute. No plastic sippy cups here. It’s the perfect accessory, indeed a pleasant echo, of what is presently on stage—Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick in a beguilingly sparkling revival of Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite (to June 26). Directed by John Benjamin Hickey, it finally opens tonight after a long, long COVID-related delay.
At a recent performance this critic attended, the two stars did not receive the first round of applause. That was reserved for the reveal of the 1960s-plush, luxe, beautifully lit (by Brian MacDevitt) suite of the Plaza Hotel itself. Before us, designed by John Lee Beatty, is the infamous suite 719, site of the three playlets that make up the show, with glimpses of the New York skyline behind the windows. The furnishings are mostly, suitably, champagne in color.
The sparkle is also down to the two leads—famous New Yorkers themselves, married in real life, and Parker the star/executive producer of Sex and the City and And Just Like That, which features its own version of a richly sparkling New York City, and one where relationships and their discontents also take center stage.
Neither Parker nor Broderick play lazily to their own coupledom or their own fame. Sarah Jessica Parker is not straight-channeling Carrie Bradshaw in Plaza Suite, but neither is she keeping her most famous alter ego completely at bay. How could she, even if she does all she can to sound very different to her, and is as well disguised as possible by Tom Watson’s wigs, rendering her alternately frumpy and glam-groovy? Indeed, the odd echo here and there—and any Sex and the City fan’s inescapable knowledge of the character—are tributaries of global familiarity driving ticket sales.
Hickey and his performers make every playlet the right kind of irresistible—laughs flow easily, sighs of recognition too, and even the occasional thud of shock and sadness. Simon’s dialog—at turns smart, caustic, soft, funny, farcical, and sharp—focuses on three sets of couples at very different stages of relationships: first Karen and Sam Nash in “Visitor from Mamaroneck”; then Muriel Tate and Jesse Kiplinger in “Visitor from Hollywood”; and finally, Norma and Roy Hubley in “Visitor from Forest Hills.”
They are not formally linked, and the playlets seem distinct. However, the meaning of love and commitment, and what time does to each, hovers above each. It’s no surprise that Plaza Suite first opened on Broadway on Valentine’s Day 1968, directed by Mike Nichols—with George C. Scott and Maureen Stapleton as the two leads, (read how eventful that all was in Mark Harris’ excellent biography, Mike Nichols: A Life).
The three women in the three plays are not Carrie Bradshaw, even if they share some of her disappointments, impatience, betrayal and disillusion with the heterosexual male of the species. Yet here we are in a hotel room; and every Sex and the City fan knows Carrie did not have a great time in hotel rooms, whether she was confused for a hooker in one when sleeping with Big (Chris Noth) behind Natasha’s (Bridget Moynahan) back, or when—in the finale of the show—she was in the loveliest one in all of Paris, all dressed up with nowhere to go, and again with the wrong man in Aleksandr Petrovsky (Mikhail Baryshnikov).
Here too, the Plaza’s suite 719 proves to be all her characters’ bête noire. Alongside Parker and Broderick are Cesar J. Rosado (standing in for Eric Wiegand), Molly Ranson, and Danny Bolero, playing what could be a smattering of thankless walk-on roles, but who fill these characters out with deftly played individual notes, given that both time and words on the page are against them.
The first playlet is a deceptive leaping-off point because it turns out to be the most dramatic and deep; the evening is more descent than ascent when it comes to theatrical fiber. Karen and Sam are twenty-plus years married, celebrating an anniversary. Except they are not celebrating. She wants to, but he’s in a mood of gripes and irritation thanks to office deadlines. So, all her attempts to dial up the romance, memories and sense of occasion are grumpily deflated by him—and Sam is an acid bore, and we heartily applaud when Karen returns his jabs with precision and ferocity.
We see how a marriage in general neglect can fast deteriorate to the raw husk it has really been, though hidden, for a while—with the added detonation of adultery. It’s so beautifully written and performed that you long to know for the rest of the evening what happened next to them both.
After this, Plaza Suite becomes a more broadly comic proposition; the second play is, right down to Broderick’s loud plaid trousers and Parker’s Pucci-ish minidress (the on-point costumes are by Jane Greenwood), very much a swinging 60s’ set-up. Jesse the Hollywood producer, reconnects with schooldays crush Muriel from their New Jersey town.
They want different things from each other; she wants to neck as many vodka stingers as possible, and hear stories about glamor and celebrities so far removed from getting home to make sure dinner is on the table. He genuinely wonders if they still have enough chemistry, aided by those stingers, to have sex. Whatever else, Muriel doesn’t desire him—or could she, might she, if she wants to extend her dream of Hollywood?
The third play is the silliest of them all. It is pure farce, with a very delayed, slightly dreary payoff, with Mimsey hiding behind a bathroom door as parents Norma and Roy try to chivvy her out, and keep their private business well away from the wedding Mimsey should be participating in, as the bride, downstairs. Here, Parker takes a slight backseat as Broderick whips himself up into such a frenzy that he ends up outside as a thunderstorm rumbles, teetering alongside the hotel’s exterior ledge to gain access to the bathroom and his sulky daughter.
Up until the third playlet, the energy and verve comes from Parker. Broderick, even as the groovy Hollywood producer, has a lugubriousness that may have you straining to hear what he is saying. He looks put upon, while Parker’s innate brio connects directly with the audience. Then, in the third playlet, he comes alive, his anger rising to incandescent as Mimsey stays stubbornly hidden.
In playwriting terms, Plaza Suite is curious: it begins as a firecracker with unexpected depth, and ends in the throes of an amiably silly crisis. The success of such a reverse-driving production is down to its actors, who are charged with piloting this tricky trajectory—an evening of lessening impact, and comedy that grows broader, even bordering on irritating, as the fretting over Mimsey’s bathroom self-incarceration stretches on and on.
Parker, Broderick and their three briefly-seen fellow actors excel, crisply and correctly judging repartee, tempo, pace, and tone. Parker is adept at handling hilarity—hobbling around, as Karen, on one shoe—and then, moments later, utterly piercing as she realizes the devastation of her marriage. The champagne may have long gone flat, but she stays fizzing.