Monday, March 25, 2002

London Suite

Theatre goers (or movie watchers) are probably familiar with Neil Simon's very popular and much performed hotel pieces--Plaza Suite and California Suite, each of which consists of a set of vignettes taking place in the same hotel room, following the lives of the current occupants of that room.

Less well known (and perhaps rightfully so) is the third in the trilogy, London Suite (written nearly 10 years after California Suite), currently running at the Winters Community Theatre. While filled with Simon's witty dialogue and comedic turns, London Suite does not seem to have the same sparkle as its predecessors.

Still, under the direction of Howard Hupe, the folks out in Winters have done a credible job of making this an enjoyable evening.

"London Suite" is a collection of four playlets set in the same suite of the Mayfair Hotel in London. Each story sets a different tone, from poignant to slapstick comedy.

The opening segment, "Settling Accounts" features Alex Selberth as Billy Fox, an agent, and Audrey Green as Briana, a writer who has just discovered that Fox has been taking advantage of her throughout her career. In the original version of this play, the author was a man. Giving the role to a woman is an interesting change of dynamic and Green carries it off well, though the piece itself is the weakest of the four.

"Going Home," casts Diane Taylor as Mrs. Semple, an attractive American widow shopping her way through London while her daughter Lauren (Kimberly Tuvfeson) attempts to play matchmaker. Semple is obviously an experienced actress who made the most of a role which is more a monologue for the mother than an actual dialog between mother and daughter. Taylor, last seen as the mother in last year's "Seeds," was balanced nicely by Tuvfeson.

"Diana and Sidney" brings back two characters from "California Suite." She's an aging Oscar-winning, yet insecure actress in London to promote her new hit television show, he's her ex-husband, a bisexual antique dealer, now living in Greece with his male partner. Germaine Hupe is marvelous as Diana, delivering some of the best lines of the evening, in her nervous pacing about the hotel room waiting for Sidney's arrival. Diana's travelling companion, Grace, is given a solid performance by Anita Ahuja. Michael Barbour's Sidney is likewise an excellent performance. He gives his character much depth as he relates his bittersweet tale. This segment is probably the most substantial of the four, as the couple remember old times and discuss the crisis which has brought Sidney to the hotel to speak with his former wife.

The final segment, "The Man on the Floor" features Ann Rost and Tom Rost as Annie and Mark, an American couple who have come to London to attend the games at Wimbeldon. Anita Ahuja makes a return appearance as Mrs. Sitgood, one of the hotel managers, Jim Hewlett is the Bellman, and Alex Selberth returns in the rols of Dr. McMerlin.

The segment is the evening's only slapstick segment about the events that occur when Mark's back goes out while frantically searching the room for the misplaced Wimbeldon tickets. It contains some of the evening's funniest lines and the performances by all of the actors is uniformly strong.

The set (quite reminiscent of last year's "Seeds," by this company) by Bob Taylor, Ken Brugaugh and Howard Hupe is a nice utilitarian hotel room.

"London Suite" is by no means the best of Neil Simon, but the evening has some funny moments that make it worth seeing. The members of the Winters Theatre Company are obviously dedicated to their craft and have a loyal following in the town. There are weak moments and strong moments, but overall, it is an enjoyable production and worth the trip out to Winters.

The show continues for one more weekend at the Winters Community Center, 201 Railroad Ave., Winters.

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