Neil Simon is still going strong. Just google the man and you’ll find a list of his plays that are being produced all over the country – Jake’s Women at Wichita State University, London Suites in Cape Charles, Virginia, Sunshine Boys in Tucson, Arizona, Rumors in North Beach, Maryland, and on and on. There’s even an ongoing Neil Simon festival in Cedar City, Utah.
I just saw a production of California Suite, which when it was produced in 1976, got rave reviews. Dan Sullivan of the L.A. Times called it “the funniest writing Neil Simon has done for anybody.” Clive Barnes of the New York Times said, “He tops his own jokes like a pole-vaulter setting records.” A woman, Marilyn Stasis of Cue magazine, called it, “his funniest play in years.”
For the one person in North America who hasn’t seen California Suite, here is a short description. It’s composed of two acts and four scenes (sketches, skits, playlets, vignettes, take your pick) in which four different couples at different times occupy an upscale Beverly Hills hotel suite.
In Visitor from New York, a divorced couple argue over whom their sixteen year old daughter should live with. In Visitors from London, a British actress loses the Academy Award and is afraid that she is losing her gay husband, too. The Visitors from Chicago is a slapstick affair in which two couples fall apart after spending too much time together on a vacation.
Sitting there in the audience, I didn’t really care much about the characters. The dialogue is clever but the characters bicker and bite, try to best one another, and don’t seem grateful for much.
But it was The Visitor from Philadelphia that got me up on my feet.
In it, a man from Philadelphia in town his for nephew’s bar mitzvah wakes up in bed with a hangover and a comatose woman in the bed beside him. He tries to wake her, tries to get her out of bed, and when he discovers that his wife is on the way up to the suite, tries to carry her to the bathroom, deposit her outside in the hall, stuff her in a closet. Finally, he puts her back into the bed and covers her up.
Apart from a few initial groans, the woman says nothing. The man asks her, “Are you all right?” “Are you sick?” and she doesn’t respond.
This “hooker,” “prostitute,” maybe “call girl” – there’s a question about how much she cost – was a GIFT from his brother who was reciprocating for the GIFT he was given on his birthday – his first woman!
The husband explains to his wife. “She was in the room, she was attractive, she was a little tight and she was paid for.”
She was not a little tight by morning. She’d had six margaritas and a bottle of vodka.
After the wife forgives her husband, she lies on the bed. The scene directions say, “The hooker’s arm flops over her… She looks at it with revulsion.”
She says, “Shall we leave a note?” to her husband and they leave shortly, ending the scene.
In my mind, I stood up in the aisle and shouted, “Stop! Ring the curtain back up. Back up. Nobody leave his seat. This is 2013 and I’m going to rewrite!”
The cast and some members of the audience took out their IPads.
“Take this down,” I cried.
MARVIN: She had six margaritas and a bottle of vodka.
MILLIE: Are you kidding me? What the hell’s the matter with you? No wonder the poor girl can’t wake up. She’s dangerously dehydrated and probably has alcohol poisoning! Call 911! Now!
(Marvin calls 911. Millie pulls the covers back and leans into Bunny.)
Bunny. The hooker does have a name. I’ll give Mr. Simon that.
MILLIE: Don’t you worry, Bunny. We’re calling a doctor. We’re going to take care of you. You’ll be all right.
(She takes her hand and Bunny gives her a weak smile.)
It wouldn’t be funny, but it would be the right thing to do.