by Neil Simon
Studio Playhouse, 14 Alvin Place
Nov. 3-18, Thursday-Saturday 8 p.m.,Sunday 3 p.m.
By GWEN OREL
At Studio Playhouse, Neil Simon’s 1968 play “Plaza Suite” has pathos along with humor.
That’s a deliberate choice from Parsippany director Paul Bettys.
Many people have seen the play, and the 1971 movie starring Walter Matthau, Bettys said, on stage at Studio before a dress rehearsal Monday night. “We tried a new take on some of the stuff. We wanted to try some different character things.”
The suite of the title is a suite of one-act plays, along with the suite of a bedroom and sitting room in a hotel. In each
play, a couple meets up in Suite 719: a couple with a marriage on the rocks, a reunion of former high school sweethearts, and a married couple whose daughter, a bride-to-be, has locked herself in the bathroom with cold feet.
On Broadway, all of the couples were played by George C. Scott and Maureen Stapleton. In the film, Walter Matthau played all of the men in the couples.
At Studio Playhouse, however, all the characters are performed by different actors, in a cast of nine. “There were so many great people that showed up,” Bettys said. Breaking up the scenes into different couples also made for a simpler rehearsal schedule, since not everyone had to be called all the time.
Three of the company, along with the director, spoke to the Local on Monday.
FUNNY, SAD: JUST LIKE LIFE
The director chose the play because, along with the comedy, “there’s a lot of drama. Any of this can happen, in actual real life,” he said.
It’s like life? “I can say wholeheartedly yes. Yes and yes and yes,” said Debra Carozza of Wyckoff, who plays Karen Nash, a 48-year-old woman trying to save her marriage, knowing her husband is having an affair with his secretary. Carozza said she loves being able to play all of Karen’s emotions: seductive, funny, cute, angry, betrayed, hurt: “I get to be every emotion that person is. Right now it’s mirroring my personal life, especially when she’s funny and dealing with pain.” Her marriage is ending, she explained.
For Kevin Vislocky, of Hamburg, the table work before the show started — discussing what the characters are thinking and doing — was particularly exciting. “Some companies you rehearse and go home,” he said, leaving the actors to do any personal work on their own. Having time allotted to discuss what is happening onstage together has made the experience more meaningful to him. He plays a Hollywood exec who returns to try to rekindle something with his high school girlfriend.
Because of the work he and the cast have done, his scene doesn’t play “like a sleazy seduction scene. That’s how Walter Matthau did it. We mined the script, and there are details in it we play in a different way.”
Debbie Buschbaum, of Riverdale, plays Norma Hubley, the mother of the terrified bride. Buschbaum said that while her scene is the most exaggerated, a husband and wife who are manic and bickering and seesaw back and forth about who is calm and who is not seems very real to her. The rhythm of the banter between herself and her husband is like “ping pong.”
THAT FAMILIAL FEELING
For the director and actors, the commute to Studio Playhouse is worth it. Bettys received a bachelor’s degree in theater, and has worked as a stage manager and actor, performing in 45 Community Theater shows since 2000, he said. Studio has believed in him and given him the opportunity to direct.
Carozza, who appeared at Studio as a different Karen, in Simon’s “Jake’s Women” in March, said that Studio Players is like a family. “It’s very accepting,” she said. There’s no backstabbing.
She has done a lot of theater, so she knows.
“I’ve been onstage since I’m 6. I think I know a stage better than I know my own house.” She received a BFA from Adelphi University and has been performing since.
Buschbaum also has a theatrical background, and has performed Off-Off Broadway. She appeared in “Assembled Parties” at Studio in January, and praised the professionalism of the sets and organization.
Rehearsals for “Plaza Suite” were held largely downstairs while the children’s show performed onstage, but, Buschbaum pointed out, there is still more time onstage than actors receive in many community theaters.
Bettys praised the elaborate set design by Laura Byrne-Cristiano.
This is not to say that there haven’t been challenges. Bettys wanted to set each scene in both rooms of the suite, but not every scene really allowed for that.
And, Carozza said, “The most challenging thing for me is how I’m getting those galoshes off the shoes. I’m dealing with rubber size 7 galoshes and size 7 shoes.”