In this sweltering heat it is appropriate that M&D Productions latest show is Neil Simon's “California Suite,” a play broken up into four individual segments, which opened Thursday, July 8, at Your Theatre in North Conway, N.H. and is running through July 24.
“California Suite,” which first opened in 1976 and spawned a 1978 film adaptation, is set in Suite 203-04 of the Beverly Hill Hotel, with each of the four pieces of the play representing different visitors to the suite.
Playwright Simon has a way with both verbal comedy with an underpinning of pathos as well as broad slapstick. In “California Suite” he distills his two sides by alternating from a more dramatic, but still funny, piece to a more silly subject.
M&D's production gets off to a rough start with the first segment “Visitor from New York,” which focuses on Hannah (Tracy Marcotte-Ludwig), a workaholic who comes to Los Angeles to visit her ex-husband Billy (Andrew Brosnan) to discuss who gets to keep their 17-year-old daughter for the next year.
There is an interesting dynamic between these two characters as Billy has adopted a healthier so-called California lifestyle which Hannah finds disdainful. The zingers Hannah keeps throwing at Billy are meant to mask her insecurities and fears that she may be losing her daughter.
Unfortunately, the scene doesn't really work because Marcotte-Ludwig's line delivery is so flat and even monotone. Brosnan is better, but it is Marcotte-Ludwig's Hannah who is suppose to set the pace and it is not nearly fast enough for this sort of bickering banter. To her credit, she does get the last line, and the emotional payoff of the piece, right.
Stick with it, though, because director Dan Tetreault's production finds its footing with “Visitor from Philadelphia,” a situational piece involving a husband (Rob Clark) who wakes up to find a prostitute passed out in his hotel bed just as his wife (Heather LeTarte) arrives at the hotel.
Clark is very funny as he anxiously comes up with a steady stream of barely plausible lies to prevent LeTarte from entering the bedroom. Here the pacing is right and the verbal by-play delivers. LeTarte is particularly amusing after the reveal of the prostitute in the bed. She gets a big laugh with the punchline after she forgives her husband.
“Visitors from London” is the best written of the four segments, and actors Clare Long and Ken Martin rise to the occasion. Long is an English actress in town for the Academy Awards because she is nominated for Best Actress, and Martin is her gay husband.
The dialogue is this piece is barbed and often venomous, but there's an undercurrent of genuine affection that Martin and Long bring across beautifully. Although this is a marriage of convenience, there is love between these two characters even as they toss acidic one-liners at each other. Martin and Long have inconsistent English accents, but that's better than the alternative of over-the-top accents that draw attention and distract.
Ironic side note: Maggie Smith won an Oscar for playing an actress who lost one in the film version of "California Suite."
The final piece, “Visitors from Chicago,” is the most slapstick and physical of the four. Two couples (Eric Jordan and Mary Moody and Rafe Matregrano and Kate Gustafson) on vacation have reached a boiling point, and by the end of the scene are quite literally at each others' throats. It is not subtle and the dialogue is more coarse with its put-downs, but this last piece is perhaps the funniest.
Everything is played at a high-strung fever pitch as verbal insults give way to punches. Jordan and Matregrano have a fight that looks impressively authentic. It appears as if they really are kicking the crap out of each other, but the tone is kept appropriately comedic. Gustafson has a laugh-out-loud moment after hitting her head, and Moody amuses as she hobbles around with a potentially broken foot.
For those keeping score, that's three out of four that hit their marks, which most definitely earns a recommendation.
For more information and tickets call 662-7591.