- Courtesy Of James Buck
- From left: Sarah McKinnon Wright, Eric Warwick, Janet Stambolian, Patrick Cope, and Sabrina Sydnor in Suite Surrender
The set's gleaming piano, swanky chairs and well-stocked bar convey the calm of a parlor in a luxury hotel suite. But no matter how serene the color scheme and upholstery, the five doors are a sure sign that a farce is about to break out. In the adorably comic world of Suite Surrender, nine characters intersect on hilarious trajectories that can only end in laughs. The Girls Nite Out production of Michael McKeever's play features a cast adept at physical comedy and the crucial skill of selling a joke.
It's 1942, and everyone enlists for the war effort, including Hollywood stars who perform at benefits. Two singing divas, Claudia McFadden and Athena Sinclair, have a little war of their own going. They're fierce rivals who hate sharing the stage but once again find themselves on the same bill.
What's worse, each assumes she belongs in the grand presidential suite at the hotel hosting the performance. Mr. Dunlap, the hotel manager, is dead set on keeping them apart and certain he has everything under control. The audience takes one look at this pompous man in the serious suit and knows he doesn't stand a chance.
How long before two bellboys and two traveling secretaries discover that two sets of luggage mean that two people — whose paths must never cross — are resting in the two bedrooms of one hotel luxury suite? How long can two characters not quite enter the suite's living room at the same time? In this well-rehearsed, neatly constructed comedy, the answer is a delirious "Just long enough."
In a farce, the audience knows who's behind each door. We also know that the characters are ridiculous, but we love the performers all the more when they keep their characters oblivious to both jokes. The actors in this production positively sail on their characters' sublime self-satisfaction. Director Nan Murat has tuned the ensemble to work in harmony. The galloping pace and broad reactions make for an exhilarating ride. Murat's screwball playbook is deep, and her gags surprise even when we think we see them coming.
Claudia (Sabrina Sydnor) opens the door to the suite and gushes, "I love this hotel." Sydnor gives Claudia a lovely cloud of excess to float on, fussing over her tiny dog and enjoying her martinis with dainty but persistent sips. She sings well and sells a song better still — this Claudia is a performer first and last.
Her assistant (Brian Bittman) sees to her every need, desperately trying to outrun her next demand. No task is too demeaning for this bow-tied subordinate, and Bittman shows him clinging to composure even as the comic problems mount. A stupendous startle reflex is his only defense.
Athena (Sarah McKinnon Wright) arrives to twirl her beautiful red sleeves, ready to get down to the business of luxuriating in the hotel while hunting for a handsome Navy man or two — the lobby is filled with men in dress whites. Wright gives Athena an imperial bearing with a racy little twinkle in her eye.
Her secretary (Claire Demarais) is dutiful until a boyfriend she'd feared had enlisted turns up at the hotel. Demarais portrays romantic rapture with besotted clarity, snapping out of lovesickness only when Athena's whims demand full attention. In her eye pops and full-body freezes, Demarais channels vintage Lucille Ball.
Geri Ann Higgins plays Mrs. Osgood, the indefatigable organizer of entertainment for the troops. Higgins elevates mugging to high art, holding her broad smiles and big gestures for a beat that audiences can fill only with laughter. Dreaming of singing with the famous Claudia, Mrs. Osgood mixes charm with chutzpah to muscle her way into a duet.
Dora Del Rio is a gossip columnist angling for a story on the hotel's current famous occupants. Janet Stambolian plays the part with gusto, scurrying after leads and thriving on the physical comedy. Stephen Moore, as the hotel manager, is not above begging the assistants to betray their bosses or desperately hiding anything — or anyone — in a closet, but he can't divert the cyclone of a plot.
As the bellhops, Eric Warwick and Patrick Cope earnestly try to follow orders. Wearing aim-to-please smiles and jaunty uniforms, they're in constant motion and the ideal vessels for mistaken identity. As they try to stay one step ahead of the stars' conflicting fancies, Warwick and Cope become hamsters in a treadmill, never quite fast enough to avoid disappointing someone. Warwick gets a lovely turn at romance, and Cope astounds with bravura bits of slapstick.
McKeever wrote the script in 2011, using farce's solid foundation for some genuine wit. His attempts to magnify the madcap with references to offstage shenanigans never play, but what's in front of us rises steadily in comic tension. And rest assured there's a plot twist up his sleeve.
Ann Vivian designed a set that radiates elegance but is sturdy enough to accommodate pratfalls. The costumes, by Jennifer Warwick, give the show a regal bit of Hollywood glamour, plus just enough comic fluff in the bellboys' uniforms and Mrs. Osgood's crazy patriotic plumes. Warwick's choice of bold colors makes each character stand out against the set's tranquil tones. The impressive period hair styles by Linda Fleury whirl us back to the '40s.
Girls Nite Out has been staging comedies since 2010, and making people laugh might as well be its mission statement. Suite Surrender brings together a genuinely funny script and a talented cast of community theater performers in a show fully loaded with every kind of humor. The timing is crisp, and the physical comedy is irresistibly funny. This review is at pains not to ruin any of the gags, but plenty of surprises await audiences.