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THEATRE ‌ Simon Says

Footlight Players resurrect a standard for light anniversary season chuckles

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Robert Ivey and Judy Heath are 'Diana & Sidney' in Simon's London Suite
  • Robert Ivey and Judy Heath are 'Diana & Sidney' in Simon's London Suite

London Suite
Running through March 10
Footlight Theatre
20 Queen St., 722-4487

Neil Simon, an American favorite ranking behind only apple pie and baseball, is a prolific playwright. His sharp, witty, touching works have been a staple since he got his big start on Your Show of Shows in the early '50s.

London Suite, made up of four one-acts which take place in the same London hotel room, is the third in Simon's Suite trilogy. It's full of classic Simon one-liners, the kind that can kill if delivered well -- and can drop like a proverbial lead balloon if not. Some of the classic lines feel stale in this Footlight production, which is due in part to the outdated material, but largely to the sometimes flat delivery of the actors.

A few of the actors bungle their timing as they appear to recite a line, then wait for their turn to speak again, all without really understanding the significance of the exchange. At times, this emptiness leads to actions which don't coincide with lines naturally. Tweaking the timing and shaping a more comfortable style in the actors are issues that should have been resolved with persistent and diligent attention by director Clarence Felder.

In the first piece, "Settling Accounts," Brian (Nat Jones) is a writer who has discovered his manager Billy (Thomas Heath) has stolen all of his money. Jones could show a lot more energy than he does; he's given one of the spunkiest roles in the play.

In "Going Home," a widow (Boo Sheppard) and her adult daughter Lauren (Andrea McGinn) are on the last night of their trip. Lauren convinces her mom to go on a date, and the story she returns with isn't exactly the stuff that inspires a gal to put herself back on the market.

Lauren comes off more like a teenager than a 31-year-old, and the NYC references don't quite fit with Sheppard's strong Southern accent and mannerisms. But aside from the two actresses not completely fitting their roles, they perform them skillfully. The scene slows considerably towards its close, making the revealed secret at the end not much of a payoff.

The weakest of the pieces is supposed to be the most powerful. The reappearance of two characters from Simon's California Suite, Sidney (Robert Ivey) and Diana (Judy Heath), has the couple reuniting after years of Sidney being in Greece with his male lover. This bittersweet reunion is unexciting and unmoving as the pace and energy slow to a tortoise's gait. Many of "Diana & Sidney's" great lines drop like stones as the scene goes on and gets buried in its slow-dripping sap.

There are great moments here, but not enough action or dimension onstage, which brings the production down in spite of its humor. While Richard Heffner's set is spacious and colorful, the one abstract indicator of an extra wall (a suspended empty mirror frame) in an otherwise realistic set seems out of place. Mostly bare walls and action that's often confined to the small seating area contribute to the play's occasional feeling of flatness.

In "The Man on the Floor," JC Conway brings some much needed vim to the production. Conway plays Mark, who has come to London with his wife Annie (Bettina Beard) to see Wimbledon tennis. This piece remains the best (despite the fact that the actors relentlessly pronounce it "Wimbleton"). Jan Moore, Jelena Zerega, and Steven Barry all help inject some belly laughs into the most entertaining and most vibrant piece of the four. If the other playlets had the same level of energy behind them, the whole production would be dynamite.

Die-hard Neil Simon fans will either love London Suite simply because it's Simon, or will dislike it because not all of the pieces do the text justice. The production is not the best handling of Simon to be found, but it makes for a generally pleasant evening of theatre, providing spots of good acting and good laughter.

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