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Room for Improvement

THEATER REVIEW

November 17, 1997|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

BREA — Sometimes success can breed mediocrity. After the success of Neil Simon's "Plaza Suite," a nosegay of one-acts that all take place in one hotel room, the playwright churned out the decidedly inferior "California Suite," set at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

The program for this "California Suite" revival at the Curtis Theatre says it takes place at "a hotel in Beverly Hills." This anonymity of locale might have been inserted to explain Martin G. Eckmann's set design, which looks very much like a suite at a Motel 6 might, complete with garish palm trees painted along the ceiling.

Director Lisa Gary's competent staging here matches Simon's writing; the craft is evident but undistinguished. The performances get their share of laughs but, like the play, remain generally pedestrian. The tempos are bright, but the inner comedic rhythms show little individuality or invention.

The visitors here are from New York (a divorced couple battling over child custody); Philadelphia (a couple discovering that arranged infidelity can build character); London (a marriage of convenience hits a speed bump after an Academy Award loss), and Chicago (two couples vacationing together reach a violent realization that familiarity breeds contempt).

Ginger Francis and Michael Flaherty stand out for their sensitivity as the Brit couple, she a maturing actress very much in love with her husband, he an actor-turned-antique dealer, whose bisexuality keeps the fires alive, if on a shaky basis. A bit more lightness could help, but this longest of the plays works the best here.

Flaherty is also very good as the unwarily cheating Philadelphia husband. As his wife, Kim Bubon gives a lively but fairly standard performance. The same can be said for her turn as the wife with a damaged ankle that starts all the trouble among the vacationers.

Robert Brooke is very good as both the compliant husband who thinks his daughter should stay in California with him and the angry husband with the injured wife, but better material would have given him more breadth. Penny Ray, who plays the magazine-editor mother trying to salve her guilt about ignoring her daughter, makes the mistake of playing a stereotypical egocentric, suited business woman with a twirling Bette Davis cigarette, rather that a real woman who also happens to be successful in business.

Kristen Anderson has no lines as the drunken hooker who spent the night with the unwary Philadelphia husband, but she certainly gets her laughs by her restraint and her ability to flop about the bed with total abandon.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

* "California Suite," Curtis Theatre, 1 Civic Center Circle, Brea. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays,2 p.m. Ends Nov. 23. $11-$15. (714) 990-7722. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes.

Penny Ray: Hannah

Robert Brooke: Bill/Mort

Michael Flaherty: Marvin/Sidney/Stu

Kristen Anderson: Bunny

Kim Bubon: Millie/Beth

Ginger Francis: Diana/Gert

A Good Guys Productions, in association with the Curtis Theatre, production of Neil Simon's comedy. Costumes/set dressings/directed by Lisa Gary. Scenic/lighting design: Martin G. Eckmann. Stage manager: Michelle McDonald.

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