Story: Four vignettes all are set in the suite of a London hotel overlooking Hyde Park. In Settling Accounts, successful Welsh novelist Brian is shocked to learn that he is suddenly bankrupt. As he pieces together what happened, he realizes that his financial advisor Billy has drained Brian's bank accounts. Before Billy can skip town, however, he finds himself at the business end of Brian’s revolver, attempting to ‘explain’ what has happened to the money.
In Going Home, Lauren and her mother are concluding their European vacation with a final night in London. A wealthy Scottish man whom they met on the plane has two tickets to a new play, and Lauren encourages her widowed mother to join the gent for a night on the town as a chance at renewed happiness in the wake of her husband’s death years ago.
Diana and Sidney looks at the relationship between a famous actress and her former husband, who now lives with a male sculptor who has terminal cancer. Diana still loves Sidney even though his gay lifestyle is less than conducive to her connubial bliss. When he asks her for a touching favor, though, Diana finds herself drawn once more into Sidney’s life.
Mayhem is at the crux of The Man on the Floor. Mark and Annie are in London to attend the Wimbledon tennis matches, but suddenly they can’t find their tickets. While looking, he throws out his back, she blames him for everything and the hotel concierge arrives with the news that they’ve mistakenly been given the suite reserved for actor Kevin Costner.
Highlights: Act, Inc., true to its mission of “reviving lost gems of theater history,” has resuscitated Neil Simon’s 1995 work that followed earlier efforts titled Plaza Suite (1968) and California Suite (1976), all following the concept of multiple stories set in the same locale. The current rendition being staged by Act, Inc. is an uneven mixture of comedy and drama, saved by a fitfully funny finale.
Other Info: London Suite is a curious mixture of drama and comedy, not always successful. The original effort didn’t even make it to Broadway, opening Off-Broadway in 1995 and closing less than six months later, a tepid tally for a Simon script.
Part of the problem might be that London Suite doesn’t know what it is supposed to be. Three of the four vignettes are more drama than comedy, but drama of a stilted, awkward sort. The lone comic piece, The Man on the Floor, returns us to Simon’s roots of eccentric characters, fast dialogue and a situation that quickly spirals out of control, with greatly humorous results.
Colin Nichols and David Gibbs portray the writer and the financial advisor, respectively, in Settling Accounts. Nichols is quite good at keeping the writer’s anger controlled, and he has a ready answer to every increasingly larger lie told by Gibbs’ unrepentant scoundrel of an advisor. The acting is fine, but the script doesn’t go anywhere.
That aimless story, though, is actually superior to the other Act I piece, Going Home. Christie Mitchell is the adult daughter intent on seeing that her mother has a good time in London, and Eleanor Mullin is the mom with a surprising secret. It’s a quick and forgettable little bit that doesn’t give an audience much to absorb and makes little impact as a result.
In Diana and Sidney, Jan Meyer and Gibbs portray characters created by Simon for California Suite years earlier. Meyer has a flair for delivering funny dialogue and Gibbs plays Diana’s ex-husband with a grand but understated style that he wears as easily as the dapper suit furnished by costume designer Jane Sullivan.
Unfortunately, Mitchell does everything but wear a sign with the word ‘lesbian’ and an arrow pointing to her as Diana’s steadfast assistant, Grace. No subtlety here, although Diana apparently never figured it out until Sidney informs her, despite Grace’s unattractive black suit and a hairstyle reminiscent of American Gothic. There’s resolution to the back story of Sidney and Diana, but just a bit.
The best is saved for last with The Man on the Floor. Here, Simon shines in what he does best, rapid-fire comedy, and director Emily Robinson’s cast is up to the task of making that humor work.
There are fine efforts by Nichols as the aching-back, henpecked husband, Mullin as an amiable if dimwitted concierge and Marty Greenwell as a doctor with a deft touch for fixing back pains -- mostly. Mitchell is too much over the top as the hostile wife, while Gibbs has a funny bit as a waiter with a penchant for finding contact lenses.
Pippin McGowan makes a few minor adjustments to her Lend Me a Tenor set, Michael Sullivan provides lights, Zoe Sullivan adds sound design, and Mullin collaborates with Jane Sullivan in finding some well-appointed props.
If only director Robinson could drop the first three vignettes and stretch out The Man on the Floor as much as Nichols painfully reclines, London Suite would be sweeter, indeed.
Play: London Suite
Company: Act, Inc.
Venue: Emerson Theater, J. Scheidegger Center for the Arts, Lindenwood University, 2300 West Clay Street, St. Charles
Dates: June 26, 27
Tickets: $20; contact 636-949-4433 or actincstl.com
Rating: A 3.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of John Lamb