The Roundabout Theater Co.’s tin-eared streak continues apace with its latest offering, “Neil Simon’s Hotel Suite,” a collection of cheap entertainments mixed and matched from the prolific playwright’s previous “Suite” titles (“Plaza,” “California” and “London,” in chronological order). The evening’s four short plays are set in plush rooms in L.A., New York and London, but the embalmed nature of the humor and John Tillinger’s bland production manage to cover all in the same waxy shine: The whole cast seems to have checked into Madame Tussaud’s.
Helen Carey and Leigh Lawson open the show in “Diana and Sidney,” perhaps the best known of these pieces thanks to the film version of “California Suite,” in which the title roles were memorably played by Maggie Smith and Michael Caine. Carey and Lawson are capable performers, but they’re no match for memories of the knockabout glamour and easy wit that Caine and Smith brought to this now-hackneyed tale of an Oscar-nominated English actress working out her nerves on the big night by lashing out at her semi-closeted husband.
Newer, but scarcely less hackneyed, is the sequel to the play that Simon wrote for the 1994 “London Suite.” Several years have passed, and Diana is now a U.S. TV star on a promo trip to London, nervously awaiting a meeting with ex-husband Sidney, who has since come out of the closet and landed on the Greek isle of Mykonos (“Mickey-noss,” as Lawson insists on pronouncing it). Comedy takes a back seat here to Simon’s dutiful attempts at heart-tugging pathos, triggered by Diana’s discovery that Sidney is dying of AIDS. Like the jokes in the first part, the emotion here is skin-deep, and Carey and Lawson go through their paces like moist-eyed automatons.
Also hardworking, but no less rote, are the performances of Randy Graff and Ron Orbach in the other two playlets on offer, which give us glimpses of Jewish East Coasters Millie and Marvin at two dramatic junctures in their semi-happily-married lives. In the first, Marvin wakes up in a Beverly Hills hotel room to find an unconscious girl in his bed, and his strenuous efforts to keep Millie from discovering the girl occasion 20 minutes of labored slapstick.
In the second piece, Millie and Marvin are plagued by a conscious but equally recalcitrant girl, their daughter Mimsey, who has locked herself in the bathroom of their Plaza Hotel suite while her bridegroom waits downstairs along with the rabbi and a couple hundred assorted guests. Marvin fumes and rages, Millie fumes and whines.
Certainly some Roundabout subscribers seemed happy to renew their acquaintance with these comfortable stock situations and stereotypes, and greeted the play’s antiquated humor and dialogue with affection. More demanding theatergoers may simply stare in wonderment — two hours plus of “comedy” without a surprising inflection, an unpredictable rhythm, a single moment of inspiration. Performers of real brilliance and an adventurous director might be able to redecorate Simon’s “Suites” for the new century, but the Roundabout has settled here for the safe route, merely sending the dusty old window dressings out for dry cleaning.