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TV REVIEW : Carol Burnett Checks Into ABC's 'Plaza Suite,' Playing Three Roles

December 03, 1987|DON SHIRLEY

Neil Simon's "Plaza Suite" becomes a Carol Burnett vehicle at 9 tonight on ABC (Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42). This is announced at the outset, with the musical theme from "The Carol Burnett Show." Then Burnett greets her studio audience and goes through her customary tugging of the ear, before plunging into Simon's trilogy of one-acts, all set in suite 719 of the Plaza Hotel.

It's a fitting match of content and form; Simon's sketches wouldn't have been out of place on Burnett's show. This speaks well for the craftsmanship of her show. It doesn't speak well for the depth of Broadway comedy 20 years ago, when "Plaza Suite" was a big hit. Simon's recent work for the stage is much richer.

If Simon were writing "Plaza Suite" today, he might write it directly for television--and he probably wouldn't create three such passive women within one play. The first two of Burnett's housewives are particularly needy supplicants, in thrall to domineering men.

It's ironic that the play is now a vehicle for one woman, playing opposite three men (Hal Holbrook, Dabney Coleman and Richard Crenna) rather than one man, playing opposite three women (as it was in the 1971 movie starring Walter Matthau).

Still, Burnett--who played the same roles onstage at the Huntington Hartford (now the Doolittle) in 1971--does her best to individuate these women, with her outfits as well as her shtick. She overdoes it in the middle sketch, mugging to the point that Coleman is left floundering for his own laughs as her Hollywood seducer. The scene is funny, but it isn't nearly as sly as it was in the movie.

Burnett does well by the frustrated doormat of the first scene, though, and her work with Crenna as frazzled parents of a reluctant bride, in the third sketch, lifts the laugh meter to its highest point of the show.

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