MORRISBURG – Director Jesse Collins loves the works of playwright Neil Simon.
A noted actor/director/playwright (he is the author of the Playhouse smash hit Dean & Jerry: What Might Have Been) Collins has a rich history with the plays of the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning American writer.
Collins performed in The Odd Couple at UCP a few years back. He directed 2016’s Last of the Red Hot Lovers, a major hit with Playhouse audiences. Now he is back, directing Simon’s classic play, Plaza Suite, which opens at the Playhouse on August 2, running until August 26.
“You could say I fell in love with Neil Simon’s work,” Collins said in a recent interview with The Leader. “His dialogue is so dense, there is so much going on. There are a lot of layers to Neil Simon’s works, and yet his lines seem effortless.”
Simon has the ability to explore his dramatic themes in naturalistic dialogue, often marked by that distinct ‘New Yorkese’ flair, Collins explained. “But there is a lot more to Neil Simon’s text than meets the eye.”
Plaza Suite is essentially an anthology of three distinct “plays” Collins explained, all linked together because they are set in the same suite at the prestigious old Plaza Hotel of bygone years.
“There are three absolutely different theatrical styles reflected in each of the ‘scenes’ in this play,” he said. “But each deals with important relationships, the ordinary relationships that make up married life.”
Simon’s dialogue is rich with comedy: there is a timelessness to the appeal of this play, despite director Collins’ decision to anchor the show firmly in 1968.
“I love period pieces,” he explained. “I also feel that placing the show in 1968 gives the audience a feel for the grand old Plaza Hotel of bygone years.”
In the Playhouse adaptation of Plaza Suite, the same actors assume the roles of all three couples who book the Suite at different times.
This was the case in Simon’s original 1968 production. George C. Scott and Maureen Stapleton played all three couples, and Collins has chosen to follow Simon’s original directions.
One couple is celebrating their 23rd anniversary, trying to recapture the romance of their honeymoon at the Plaza. The second couple are a thoroughly jaded Hollywood director and his naive ex-girlfriend. In the last scene, a husband and wife are desperately coping with a daughter who won’t come out of the hotel bathroom on her wedding day.
“I love it when the audience experiences the notion that theatre can be vastly different even if the same two people are playing all the key roles,” Collins said.
The challenges of convincingly playing multiple roles demands a top notch cast.
Collins has one.
Viviana Zarillo and Nigel Hamer are the main characters, with Alison MacKay and Liam Collins taking on the vital secondary roles.
“Viviana and Nigel are exceptional actors,” Collins said. “They have a wonderful ear for Simon’s dialogue. The text demands that the actors be incredibly precise. Nigel and Viviana have worked together, and developed a terrific theatrical shorthand, and a deep trust in each other. They respond instantly to each other on the stage, while following the impulses in a scene.
Alison and Liam support the play through their multiple characters. What they do in their roles is both key and crucial to the show,” Collins said.
Plaza Suite is a co-production between Upper Canada Playhouse and Orillia Opera House where Collins is the artistic director. He and UCP artistic director Donnie Bowes are old friends.
“In a lot of ways this is really a joint production,” Collins said. “Donnie and I have worked together every step of the way in creating the set, doing the casting and working out the technical aspects.”
Audiences are in for an evening of wit and hilarity when they “check into” Plaza Suite. They will be spending time with memorable, timeless characters, experiencing their joys, their sorrows and the laughter that is so much part of any relationship.
“Jesse has always delivered a great show to Playhouse audiences,” said Playhouse artistic director Donnie Bowes. “And Plaza Suite is no exception.”