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Plaza Suite
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Plaza Suite

Plaza Suite

Neil Simon's play Plaza Suite ran for over a thousand performances on Broadway. Its original cast included stars George C. Scott and Maureen Stapleton, under the direction of Mike Nichols. The play was essentially three one-act plays (three stories with different characters) tied together by a specific location – suite #719, of New York's Plaza Hotel. Scott and Stapleton played the main characters in each of the three acts. The play was nominated for three Tony Awards in 1968, including Best Play and Best Actress for Maureen Stapleton. Mike Nichols won the Tony for Best Direction.

When it came time to adapt Plaza Suite for the film, Simon, naturally, penned his own adaptation. But the big screen called for a change in stars. The movie version of Plaza Suite (1971) did retain Maureen Stapleton, but in just one of the three roles she had played on stage. Meanwhile, Walter Matthau replaced George C. Scott and appeared in all three of the film's vignettes. The first segment, which in the play was titled "A Visitor from Mamaroneck," tells the story of a couple who honeymooned in the suite 24 years earlier. Stapleton appears as the wife in this portion of the film. The second act, "A Visitor from Hollywood," features Matthau as a Hollywood producer who tries to seduce an old acquaintance (played in the film by Barbara Harris). In the third story, "A Visitor from Forest Hills," Matthau and Lee Grant team up to play the parents of a nervous bride who's locked herself in the bathroom.

Another change from stage-to-screen was the director. Though Mike Nichols had directed such movie successes as Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) and The Graduate (1967), he was at the time still best known as a stage director (he had previously helmed the Simon Broadway hits The Odd Couple and Barefoot in the Park). Arthur Hiller, who had previously directed Simon's film The Out-of-Towners (1970), as well as having just finished Love Story (1970), was brought in to direct the Hollywood version of Plaza Suite.

While the play Plaza Suite all took place in Suite #719, Hiller shifted some of the action outdoors, hoping to make the film feel less stage-bound. Some exterior shots were filmed in New York at the Plaza Hotel but the majority of shooting was done on the Paramount Pictures soundstages in Hollywood.

Reviews for Plaza Suite were mixed. And Simon himself was less than complimentary about the film. "I was very unhappy about it. I didn't like the cast. I didn't like the picture," he remarked. "I would only have used Walter in the last sequence and probably Lee Grant," Simon went on to say. "I think Walter Matthau was wrong to play all three parts. That's a trick Peter Sellers can do. I have to accept some of the blame for the film. I kept all the action in one room. It was rather confining. We could have gone into other suites. I didn't think it out, but I learned from that."

Nonetheless, most would agree that less-than-perfect Neil Simon is still better than a lot of stage to screen comedies. And Plaza Suite went on to receive two Golden Globe nominations – for Best Motion Picture Musical/Comedy and for Maureen Stapleton as Best Supporting Actress.

One final note of interest about Plaza Suite: Simon had originally intended the play to have four acts. But he cut one of the segments during pre-production. This fourth segment would be turned into the film The Out-of-Towners.

Producer: Howard W. Koch
Director: Arthur Hiller
Screenplay: Neil Simon, based on his play
Cinematography: Jack A. Marta
Production Design: Arthur Lonergan
Music: Maurice Jarre
Film Editing: Frank Bracht
Cast: Walter Matthau (Sam Nash/Jesse Kiplinger/Roy Hubley), Maureen Stapleton (Karen Nash), Barbara Harris (Muriel Tate), Lee Grant (Norma Hubley), Louise Sorel (Miss McCormack).
C-115m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

by Stephanie Thames



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