Ron Orbach in Hotel Suite
Ron Orbach in Hotel Suite
As the all-star gala salute Neil Simon at the Neil Simon proved on Monday, June 26, Simon is one of the greatest comedic playwrights in the history of the world--more than deserving to have a Broadway theater named after him, if not the entire avenue. Though Simon's high level of inspiration has shown evidence of waning in recent years, the plays and musicals he produced in his prime--from The Odd Couple to Last of the Red Hot Lovers to Promises, Promises to the Brighton Beach trilogy, etc., etc,. ad infinitum--remain timelessly hilarious, no matter how "dated" their characters and themes. So foolproof is this material that it's almost impossible to kill it in performance. But leave it to the Roundabout Theatre Company to do just that.

Hotel Suite, the Roundabout show now playing at the Gramercy Theatre, is a pointless remix of sequences from Simon's Plaza Suite, California Suite, and London Suite. It consists of two sets of one-act plays drawn from these collections, each set taking place in a different hotel room and each concerning two distinct sets of characters. (Have you got that?) In "Diana and Sidney" (from California Suite), we find a British actress nervously preparing for Oscar night (she's nominated) in the company of her husband--a former actor, now an antiques dealer. Years later, in "Diana and Sidney, Part Two" (from London Suite), the lady is a firmly established star with a hit American TV series; and the gentleman, now her ex, has come to tell her some bad news.

The other two one-acts that fill out the evening--"Visitor from Philadelphia" (from California Suite) and "Visitor from Forest Hills" (from Plaza Suite)--concern the comic tribulations of an ordinary Joe named Marvin. When first we meet him, this poor schlub is dealing with the fact that a hooker he hooked up with the night before now lies unconscious or, perhaps, dead in the bedroom of his hotel suite--even as his wife, Millie, is on her way up in the elevator. In the later sequence, Marvin and the long-suffering Millie are desperately trying to talk their skittish daughter out of the W.C. so that her wedding can go on as planned.

Leigh Lawson and Helen Careyin Hotel Suite
Leigh Lawson and Helen Carey
in Hotel Suite
Why anyone felt it necessary to repackage this material in this manner is anyone's guess; I'd like to think the idea came not from Simon himself, but from somebody at the Roundabout. At any rate, Hotel Suite is typical of the company in that it is filled with talented people performing well under par. The chief victim of the theater's curse is Ron Orbach as Marvin, who exhibits limitless energy but an almost total lack of comedic focus; he seems to have received no help from director John Tillinger, whose career has embraced far more misses (Night Must Fall, Getting and Spending, Three Men on a Horse, Sweet Sue) than hits (Sylvia, Lips Together, Teeth Apart). And though Randy Graff as Millie, Helen Carey as Diana, and Leigh Lawson as Sidney maintain their dignity and garner a fair amount of laughs, all have given far more successful performances in other venues.

The third-rate quality of this endeavor (excepting the fine sets, lighting, and costumes of James Noone, Kevin Adams, and Theoni V. Aldredge) comes as no big surprise, in that almost everything the Roundabout touches turns to dross--including classic plays and musicals of all stripes, from The Three Sisters to The Glass Menagerie to The Lion in Winter to Company. The law of averages has dictated that, like a blind basketball player, the theater has scored once in a blue moon; recent productions of The Rainmaker and 1776 spring to mind as having been very worthwhile, but there are precious few other examples. Yet this organization somehow continues to attract scads of funding. Indeed, the press release for Hotel Suite contains two full paragraphs listing governmental and private sponsors of various aspects of the theater's operations, including the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Office of Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation (?), American Airlines, Chase Manhattan Bank, and the Millennium Broadway Hotel. (Given that the Roundabout has renamed its new home on 42nd Street "the American Airlines Theatre," it's surprising that Hotel Suite wasn't titled Millennium Broadway Suite).

Of course, the way things stand nowadays, it takes an awful lot of money to present shows on Broadway (or Off-Broadway). No one would begrudge even the most blatant fundraising schemes if the result were satisfying theater. But why is the Roundabout rolling in big bucks when far more deserving organizations are struggling? The short answer is that artistic excellence and commercial savvy are unrelated. And that's show biz.