Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"Plaza Suite" has poignancy but will leave you laughing

Cleveland Press June 26, 1971

Neil Simon's hit play "Plaza Suite" has been transferred to the movie screen and to those who consider Simon only in the light of his "Odd Couple" belly laughs the newer work may come as a surprise.

IT HAS ITS share of belly laughs but the poignancy and occasional cruelty that underlies his humor is in greater evidence.

"Plaza Suite" consists of three separate episodes, unrelated except that they all occur in the Suite 719 of New York's Plaza Hotel.

On Broadway and on tour (but not at the Play House) the play used the same actor and actress to portray the three different couples. The movie uses one actor -- Walter Matthau -- and three actresses -- Maureen Stapleton, Barbara Harris and Lee Grant.

For Matthau it is a tour de force, a reminder that before the man became heavily in demand as a comic performer he was one of the best character actors in the business.

IT MAY BE that the movie tends to magnify faults as well as virtues. Or it may be that director Arthur ("Love Story") Hiller was in awe of handling a major stage success by America's most commercially successful playwright.

Whatever the reason the movie has a tendency to look like a photographed stage play, only differing in that the camera can occasionally take us into the lobby or out on the street.

Otherwise the camera moves in for a series of closeups leaving the feeling that the stage proscenium still surrounds the actors.

As a film "Plaza Suite" works best as the humor becomes broader. Episode one, about a failing marriage, comes out all serious. Simon's wonderful wisecracks are still there and Maureen Stapleton delivers them with the right mixture of wit and underlying seriousness.

The story is about a wife booking the suite for herself and her husband. It had been the scene of their honeymoon 23 years earlier and obviously she hopes to rekindle a flame that has flickered.

Miss Stapleton cuts through the suds in a beautiful performance. Matthau scores as a self-centered' man having an affair with his secretary because he thinks life is passing him by. But funny it isn't.

EPISODE TWO finds Matthau as a Hollywood producer in town briefly to sign contracts. He phones a sweetheart (Barbara Harris) of 15 years before with seduction as the object.

Although allowed to run longer than it should, the episode works well with Simon's humor keeping it from verging on poor taste

Miss Harris is the celebrity conscious woman who interrupts passion to ask the producer if he knows Frank Sinatra. Or gushes that when the local drive-in had a festival of all his great films she went both nights.

EPISODE THREE is pure farce with Matthau as the father of the bride, Lee Grant the mother and both of them distraught because their daughter has locked herself in the bathroom. Downstairs the guests are guzzling the champagne and eating the food for which dad has paid thousands.

Matthau plays this one in a non~stop rage but Miss Grant, whenever she gets a chance to get a line in, holds her own very nicely.

The episode is well placed. It will leave audiences laughing, which is what they came in for.