The stars outshine the material in Neil Simon’s fizzy, busy three-act play

There are six wildly divergent main characters across the three vignettes in Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite, each played by Sarah Jessica Parker or Matthew Broderick: Desperate housewives, groovy movie producers, anxious suburban grandees. Though the Playbill cover, tellingly, features an artful black-and-white photograph of the pair out of costume as themselves, in elegant formal dress. And it was clear whom the nearly full house at the Hudson Theater last night was there to see on stage — not Karen from Mamaroneck or Jesse from Tenafly, but these two married movie stars, a duo ingrained in our collective pop-culture psyches for longer than some showgoers filing into their seats had been alive.

That’s maybe the blessing and the curse of Plaza: the fact that the couple’s real-life union subsumes the play, or at least hovers above and around it in nearly every moment, a golden nimbus of celebrity. If anything though their presence adds novelty to a work whose resonance — it originally bowed on Broadway 52 years ago with Maureen Stapelton and George C. Scott in the title roles, and ran for over a thousand performances — was strenuously contemporary at the time and is now very much a piece of history.

Even empty, the stage evokes a bygone era: A tastefully rococo set of rooms swathed in chandeliers, silk damask, and burnished golds, with a towering “view” of the Pierre outside its windows. Parker enters Act 1 in a flutter of hummingbird energy as Karen Nash, a woman celebrating her 24th wedding anniversary with Broderick’s Sam, and determined to recreate their long-ago honeymoon. But Sam, when he arrives, brusquely dismisses champagne and hors d’oeuvres. He’s still harried from work and has no desire for the empty calories anyway; at 51, he has his figure to maintain and a looming deal to close.

Spring Broadway Preview

Spring Broadway Preview

Joan Marcus Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick in ‘Plaza Suite’

There’s an officious young secretary, Ms. McCormack (Laurie Veldheer), to keep reminding him of that, but the thrust and parry of the fast-dancing dialogue is between Sam (huffy, preoccupied) and Karen (tizzying, agitated, eager to please). By the end of it, the fault lines in their marriage have been glaringly exposed, first comically and then tragically — an emotional burden that is, by the script’s design, mostly Parker’s to carry. She’s the tremulous soul of it, he the wary, weary bystander until the final moments.

Their pairing has more latitude, and more levity, in Act II: Though it’s set a scant year later in 1969 and the suite remains the same, the cultural moment has visibly shifted; it’s like going from Mad Men to Laugh-In. Parker’s Muriel is a Tenafly housewife with a long blond fall and a mood ring of a minidress; Broderick is Jesse, her high-school paramour returned triumphant from Hollywood, where he makes pictures with Lee Marvin and pals around with Steve McQueen.

Their interplay fizzes with physical comedy, a mood that carries through Act III when they become Norma and Ray Hubley, two middle-aged pillars of New York suburbia desperate to see their 21-year-old daughter (Veldheer again) married to the shaggy-haired boy waiting downstairs, if only she’ll deign to come out of the bathroom. Parker wiggles and dips in her floral mother-of-the-bride finery; Broderick flails in his morning-suit tails. It’s goofy and charming and deeply silly, and the audience, at least on this night, roared their approval.

There’s nothing crucial or particularly current about a revival like Plaza in 2022, but they didn’t seem to mind. Two years into a pandemic, this crowd mostly seemed happy to celebrate and share a moment of intimacy with actors so well known to us that it often felt as if Carrie Bradshaw and Ferris Bueller and a dozen others were also in the room. When Parker, who arguably carries the play on her small shoulders through sheer ebullient energy, broke during one particularly outrageous bit in Act II and had to turn away briefly, it felt less like a misstep to rush past than a moment of communion: a suite whose fourth-wall breach was, at least on some level, exactly what we came for. Grade: B

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