“California Suite,” now playing at Randall Theatre Jacksonville, is a delightful evening of high comedy verging on farce and brimming with angst as the actors play multiple characters in varying states of crisis.
Welcome to the world of Neil Simon, where instead of the battle of the sexes you have the bungle of the sexes, and then some. Five couples from various parts of the country separately inhabit a suite in a Los Angeles hotel. The characters chat away with quips and one-line zingers that shatter facades to disclose their anxiety and marital difficulties and expose friendship and love.
Visitors from New York: Hanna and William Warren are divorced and haven’t seen each other in years. Their differences are clear at once: She is a spunky Newsweek editor in pinstripes and pearls. He is a mellow Hollywood screenwriter in California casual wear and prayer beads.
Seeing that her ex-husband has become obviously happy and content, Hanna wonders, “Don’t you ever get depressed?”
“Yes,” William says.
“When?” Hanna asks.
They’ve met to work on a problem that has to be thoughtfully solved. Even though they have both moved on from their marriage, they find each other almost too attractive. Their banter consists of the contrasts between the intellectual vibrancy of New York and the trendiness of L.A. Caustic remarks dissolve into interesting conversation, and it seems they might even reconcile. However, when William invites Hanna to vacation near him in L.A., she answers, “Two months out here? I might get constipation of the mind.”
William (Levi Anderson) is accommodating and charming, while Hanna (V. Simone Stewart) comes on as cynical and conceited to mask her heightened vulnerability. It is obvious they were a mismatch in marriage, bound together by the fact they were both brilliant writers using wit as their mating call.
Visitors from Philadelphia: Marvin Michaels wakes up with a horrendous hangover in a very compromising position. There, in bed with him, is an inert but beautiful body named Bunny (Alex Bringer). He is expecting his wife, Millie, any moment. In fact, she arrives immediately. Frantic to cover up his indiscretion, he resorts to smokescreens, bait and switch, any form of ruse to put off the inevitable.
David Eisenberg as Marvin would give Mel Brooks or Gene Wilder a run for their money as the hilarious, hysterical husband careening around the various rooms, desperately trying to keep his marriage and his family from immediate dissolution. Judith Rosen’s Millie is the perfect nebbish, so loving that although major disappointments may break her heart, they might not wreck her home.
Visitors from London: “Total disaster . . . the Titanic in chiffon!” screeches Diana Nichols (Rosen) as she examines herself in the mirror. Diana is one of England’s leading ladies and has come to town for the Academy Awards accompanied by her husband, Sidney (John Richardson). They have a complicated relationship. “You’ve had half a husband and three-quarters of a career. You deserve the full amount of everything,” Sidney reassures her, as they’re off to the awards. As the evening wears on, Rosen’s Diana is the classiest of British dames, as she marshals her pride and her heartache, to conquer her bemused but adoring husband.
Visitors from Chicago: After tripping over her shoelaces on the tennis court, an injured Beth Hollender (Stewart) is carried into the suite by her now furious husband, Mort (Richardson). They have just left an over-exuberant game of doubles with their best friends Stu and Gert Franklyn (Anderson and Rosen), who shortly arrive in a panic. The two couples have been traveling together much too long, and hostility erupts. Civilized behavior escalates into an uproarious battle, as the couples release their frustration, anger and humiliation in joyous physicality.
Instead of the Beverly Hills Hotel, set designer Nico Hewitt has chosen to stage “California Suite” in cheap and clean accommodations to heighten the hilarity of each story. The design allows the raucous behavior to move through several rooms, in and out of various doors, onto the floor, and out into the hallways.
Attending the Randall Theatre is always enjoyable: It’s a smooth scenic ride to Jacksonville, where there is plenty of parking and gracious volunteers to greet you.
Cleverly directed by Beth Boulay, “California Suite” plays in the Calvary Church at 520 N. Fifth St., in Jacksonville.
For dates, times and ticket information, see randalltheatre.com or call 541-632-3258.
— Evalyn Hansen is a freelance writer based in Ashland. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her blog: ashlandtheater.wordpress.com.