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Rheum Service

Commingled scenes from Neil Simon's hotel plays merely point up how interchangeable these sentimental, typically teary comic vignettes are.

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Bland hotel: Helen Carey and Leigh Lawson in Neil Simon's Hotel Suite.  

The announcement of something called Neil Simon's Hotel Suite made me wonder whether Simon, having written three theatrical bills of short plays -- Plaza Suite, California Suite, and London Suite -- had gone over into the hotel business altogether. As probably the richest playwright in history, he might, conceivably from lack of anything further to say, have found it a short but remunerative leap into becoming an equally prosperous hotelier. This, however, is not the case. The new bill of fare is two from column A -- sorry, from California Suite -- and one each from the other two. There may be a pun on suite, as in a set of pieces, but not on sweet, which is hardly the taste these playlets leave in the mouth.

In "Diana and Sidney," a middle-aged English actress and her actor-turned-antiquarian husband are in Hollywood for the Oscars, one of which Diana may win. They have been married for quite a few years, even though Sidney, a bisexual, continues to have minor homosexual flings. Both spouses are hearty drinkers and practitioners of wry British wit, which Simon handles passably. We see them both before and after the awards and partying, and there is sardonic fun in both their sparring and their comments on the Hollywood scene.

In "Visitor From Philadelphia," the portly Marvin has come to L.A. for his nephew's bar mitzvah a day ahead of his wife, Millie, and wakes up on the festive day next to a dead-to-the-world hooker, a gift from his brother. He himself passed out and can remember nothing; she cannot be roused by any means. Millie arrives, already put out by the airline's loss of her bags. She keeps wanting to hit the bed, where she would encounter baggage of a different kind. Marvin's desperate maneuvers provide a modicum of verbal and visual amusement.

In "Diana and Sidney: Part Two," Diana has become a rich and successful sitcom star; Sidney, split from her and now completely gay, lives with a German lover on Mykonos. The man is dying of cancer, and only Diana's money could provide suitable care for his remaining months. Will the still-loving woman help? There is a guessable final twist, but the main problem is that serious drama lodged amid flippant wisecracks would require a better playwright -- or hotelier -- to properly accommodate it.

In "Visitor From Forest Hills," Marvin and Millie are now the hapless parents of Mimsey, the bride who, with the wedding party fretting below, has locked herself into the bathroom of her parents' Plaza suite with a case of cold feet, and cannot be dislodged by fair means or foul. The comic strand is stretched rather thin, and the payoff is a bit facile, but in between there is a great albeit improbable sight gag. Even though there are some connections among the playlets, their sum is rather smaller than the individual parts, and what with dated topical references and antiquated sexual attitudes, the whole thing comes across like a vase of flowers left over from the previous hotel guest.

Helen Carey (Diana) and Randy Graff (Millie) perform valiantly, but Leigh Lawson is a shade too slippery as Sidney. As Marvin, the obese Ron Orbach sweats profusely but exudes quite a bit less humor. In three tiny parts, Amanda Serkasevich is appealing. The use of hotel employees for comic scene-shifting is an old gag that here falls flat; otherwise, John Tillinger's staging -- like James Noone's décor, Theoni V. Aldredge's costumes, and Kevin Adams's lighting -- does the job, but was it worth doing?


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