By Pat Robbenolt
Could one of the divas with overblown egos surrender her suite? Will Claudia McFadden, beloved matron of song, played by Weslie Webster, give up her suite? Would Athena Sinclair, star of screen and stage, played by Patty Payne, consider a move in favor of McFadden, her arch-rival? These questions form the basis of Suite Surrender now playing in the Adventure Theater of the Cumberland County Playhouse.
Michael McKeever penned this pratfall comedy in which he explores the absurdity of social snobbery. Others have said, “McKeever writes with wit, insight and a healthy doses of his quirky sense of humor.” It is the acting company that gives life to this farce. Director Britt Hancock has assembled a cast able to breathe new life into McKeever’s script. Slamming doors, mistaken identities, fast-paced action, and ever building tension bring endless laughs to those who love a farce.
Bernard S. Dunlap, the harried general manager of the Palm Beach Royale Hotel and Spa, played by Jason Ross, is faced with two competing divas assigned to the same suite. It is May of 1942. John Partyka has transformed the Adventure Theater into the Presidential Suite of this prestigious social center.
Members of the “Jason Ross Fan Club” delight in his amazing physical gyrations. His attempts to conceal the pictures of Athena Sinclair when in the presence of Ms. McFadden are hilarious. Adding to the confusion is the fact that Dunlap is unable to distinguish between Bellhop Francis, played by Michael Ruff, and Bellhop Otis, whom we know as Chaz Sanders. Their constantly mistaken identities lead to confusion of the luggage of the two divas. White roses are central to the comfort of McFadden. Yet, they appear instead while Sinclair is claiming the suite.
To stir the pot of confusion Carol Irvin appears as society matron Mrs. Everett P. Osgood, president of the Palm Beach Ladies for Unity. She is overpowering in her demands on the management of the Hotel. Ross is trying to run a tight ship. His posture reflects the challenges as he hears her demands. Irvin appears in satins and furs to add pressure to the hotel staff when they are feeling most overwrought. Her deep concern for those serving in the military has led her to invite both Navy and Marine Corps service men for a relaxing time at the Palm Beach Royale. Although we never see them, we know they are diving off the fourth floor balcony into the pool.
Nicole Begue Hackmann brings to life Murphy Stevens, the personal secretary to Athena. She is thrilled to discover a lover from her past is here. But, to whom are the red roses sent? Why is there a bellhop lying on the floor in the hall?
Greg Pendzick appears as Mr. Pippet, personal secretary to Claudia McFadden. Young and proper, he is ready to receive orders from his boss. However, he does feel justified in demanding she ask nicely and say thank you. He comments: “I have no sense of humor.” Dunlap (Ross) replies: “This would be a good time to get one.” Pendzick has shown us before that, among his considerable talents, he is a master of the art of plummeting to the floor.
Lauren Marshall is priceless as gossip columnist Dora del Rio. Ever in the wrong place, she is constantly knocked out by doors or otherwise rendered unconscious. Her ability to appear as a rag-doll while being pushed in the closet is amazing. She and the white roses spend a great deal of time there.
Weslie Webster plays the insecure Claudia McFadden, the presence of white roses assure her that she is still America’s Beloved Matron of Song. There is a delightful moment as Carol Irvin, surely once a diva herself, joins Webster in song. In addition to the roses, Claudia McFadden must always have with her Mr. Boodles, a lap dog. Her secretary must pay as much attention to the well being of the dog as to her. Plaudits must go to the dog, carried upside down, with little support at times. Mr. Boodles responds with an occasional yawn.
Patty Payne brings to life Athena Sinclair, a great star of stage and screen. She displays a haughty self-assurance that contrasts sharply with the insecurity of McFadden. The feud between the two has been much publicized. No one would deliberately force them to be in the presence of one another. Payne is a forceful presence on the stage, leaving no doubt that she expects to be in control of the situation.
Those who love a farce and are ready for a couple of hours of constant laughs,
will want to call the box office for tickets to Suite Surrender. It is rated PG and plays through December 20.