California Suite

Date 20th March 2023
Society Jewish Theatre Group Manchester
Venue The Empty Space
Type of Production Play
Director Stacey Friedman
Written By Neil Simon

Report

Author: Steph Niland

California Suite by Neil Simon is made up of four playlets set in a hotel suite in Beverly Hills and the guests who stay there. Each playlet stands alone, with no connection to the next or previous one. Each has its own set of characters and style of comedy, reminiscent of retro television sitcoms.

The first guests we encounter are in ‘Visitor from New York’. An estranged couple whose relationship has become strained but as they share a daughter, a tolerance of some sort has settled between them. The contentious issue here is that the daughter wishes to stay with the father and the mother has come to take her home. The dialogue is brilliantly written – the sarcastic barbs and digs coming thick and fast with intelligent insults and put downs veiled in a passive aggressive and witty tone. Liz Reuben as Hannah and Julian Kosky as William did well with a script that relies heavily on delivery and sustained concentration. This scene suits to a more static approach to direction and more focus placed on the text, it formed a good start and introduced well the concept and pitch of the piece.

Visitor from Philadelphia had a completely different energy. More farcical and full of more obvious humour both through the physical and scripted aspects. The sleeping body in the bed (Bunny played beautifully by Alina Cohen – what an ask!) and the audience being privy to the entire story when the wife was not was genuinely funny and the whole section was risible and genuinely diverting in the capable hands of Jaysen Lewin as Marvin Michaels and Deborah Loofe as Millie Michaels. Jaysen’s Devito-esque delivery and borderline slap stick physicality was brilliantly played, well done! Deborah’s whole performance was a joy – from the exhausted put upon wife and mother to the gobsmacked, furious, and determined female at the end, it is clear that this is someone who understands comedy in all its guises. This section was strong in performance and direction and very funny to boot – congratulations.

The third offering in the hotel suite was Visitors from London. A Mr and Mrs Nichols in Hollywood for an award do where Diana is up for a gong. A clever dramatic technique to see them before the awards and then afterwards which enabled Howard Yaffe and Deborah Finley to adeptly take on different and distinct aspects of the same character. Howard as pre-award do Sidney is playfully sardonic and long suffering and patient with his wife’s excitable temperament and Deborah’s early evening Diana is nervous and her falsely self-depreciating nature is played marvellously. Their relationship put one in mind of Margot and Jerry Leadbetter. Both actors were fabulously entertaining when they returned from their evening out, worse for wear and the cracks in their marriage, that were hinted at previously, expanded and evident. Humorous and poignant performances – well done!

Lastly, we had Visitors from Chicago a four-hander played by Andrea Berger as Beth Hollender, Racheal Bloom as Gert Franklyn and a returning Julian Kosky as Stu Franklyn and Jaysen Lewin as Mort Hollender. A short fun piece relying heavily on physical comedy and pace. The 4 dealt well with both in this piece of the Hi De Hi ilk. Some lovely moments from Andrea Berger as the original injured party and Jaysen as the strained Mort, swinging wildly between wanting to defend his honour and not wanting to cause a scene. Silliness ensues when the injuries keep coming and the tension that comes from holidaying with friends for a prolonged period was effectively portrayed. Fun!

The design and tech was solid and functional and worked well for the piece – yes the picture lost its hanging and then another joined it in solidarity but it was soon forgotten and forgiven – these things happen.

The considered direction by Stacey Friedman was well placed and executed well, particularly in the middle two playlets and it must have been a lovely challenge to have 4 differing pieces to play with. Congratulations!