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Palm Beach sendup the scene at next Royal Palm Players comedy


You know as soon as you see the set for “Suite Surrender” that you are in for physical comedy of epic proportions. Four doors, one leading to a balcony, a closet and a bar, are sure indicators that there will be doors slamming, hidden objects, mistaken identities and timed exits and entrances by narrow margins.

The set, once again expertly crafted by our award-winning Laura Brock, is the Grand Presidential Suite of the Palm Beach Royale Hotel in 1942. A swanky piano, a well-stocked bar, upholstered couch and an oriental rug  adorn a sophisticated blue-green and gold palette which oozes luxury and makes for a tranquil background. It is the complete opposite of the mounting frenzy that builds with entrances of each performer. This staging, truly another masterpiece, is elegant and yet strong enough to withstand the stage’s galloping ride.

The war effort is on. The hotel is expecting two well-known singing divas, fierce rivals who have a bit of a war going on between themselves. Despite sharing the same performance night at different times, the hotel manager, Bernard Dunlap, Terry Seitz, must make sure that these two women never cross paths. Thing is, they inadvertently are placed in the same suite! Oops! But that is not all. The manager is harassed by Mrs. Osgood, who as the leader of the PBLFU (Palm Beach Ladies for Unity – emphasis on the FU) is the indefatigable organizer of the hotel entertainment for the troops of the Navy, the Army, the Air Corps and the Marines. Maggie Bush keeps popping in on him, gushing with enthusiasm, to make sure that every detail is attended too. Maggie has a way of balancing the character’s somewhat ditsy personality with a  touch of just the right class.

Also a thorn in his side, which adds to his misery, is Dora Del Rio, Elaine Skypala, the local gossip columnist, bent on any scandal, the stereotype of a nosy reporter. Elaine slinks about searching for a story and gets flung about, bopped by doors, adding comedic gusto. Elaines’s laughable gestures are very enjoyable.

And if that is not enough, Terry Seitz, the hotel manager, is assisted by two bungling, inept bellhops who seem to spend most of their time delivering and removing misplaced luggage and juggling long-stemmed white roses.

The plot opens with the entrance of the two bellboys – Otis, played by Sam Campbell, and James Martin, as Francis. Dressed in the typical bellhop uniform of the period, the two play off one another while in constant motion trying valiantly to stay one step ahead of the ever-changing orders from their boss. They are like hamsters on a treadmill. Otis has a slight mishap with Mr. Boodles, the pet dog of one of the divas, and he expertly and with great finesse “hides.”  Some great lines here.

They both have comedic timing, flawless entrances and enjoy their interplay.

James Martin plays his riotous role with energy and genuine wit. He discovers that his girlfriend, whom he left to join the army and was subsequently rejected because his toe was shot off by an incompetent recruit, is none other than the personal secretary to one of the divas. The secretary, Murphy, is played by Nancy Ryan. A dutiful young “wannabe star,” Nancy’s character is distracted by her boyfriend. Her romantic rapture is sweetly portrayed with innocent breathless interludes, as she juggles those moments with lovely equilibrium. Of course, despite the miscommunication they had, they are still in love, and this adds some very funny moments. Watch for the foot pop up during one of their hot embraces.

Claudia appears and gushes, “I love this hotel!” Alice Court rides onto the stage as the ultimate diva, Capitol,  bigger than life, shrieking commands to everyone, demanding her long-stemmed white roses and being the ultimate prima donna. Her exuberance immediately informs you that she will be over the top difficult for everyone with whom she comes in contact. Alice is cast perfectly. I mean that in a good way!

Her overworked, overlooked and underpaid secretary of 12 years is Mr. Pippet, Hal McCombs. With just the right amount of proper subordination, Hal sees to her every demand, trying to foresee and desperately keep up with her constant requests, like keeping her martini pitcher full and taking her pet dog for “walkies.” Hal’s constant “Yes, Miss McFadden” is amusing, and the sequence with the hotel manager when he discovers that indeed the suite is being shared with the other diva is one of his many comic highlights.

Entering into this world of complexity and into the same suite is diva number 2, Athena, played by Julia Pierce, the volatile vixen, who swishes in admiring the suite with an eye to the “steamy intimacy, the romance,” that the room might see during her stay. The fact that there are several dozen military guests in residence in fitted uniforms “hugging their firm, round bottoms” is very appealing to her. However, the long-stemmed white roses are not. Julia sports a regal being with a mischievous wink in her eye. The comings and goings between the two divas in the same suite without one bumping into one another is a huge part of the comedy.

Mr. Dunlap, played by Terry Seitz, is the frantic hotel manager desperately trying to keep a completely out-of-control situation from blowing up. He is without a doubt the most sympathetic character. Terry’s character’s blood pressure reaches epic proportions as the problems escalate.  Terry’s voice, his stiff posture and clenched fists all portray him as a man about to lose his normal steadfast, detail-oriented composure.

So how does the madcap mayhem get resolved? No spoilers here – and I think it best you don’t tell anyone. 

A “suite” production under the expert direction of Meryl Schaffer, the play has proved to be a massively entertaining evening of fun and laughter. Meryl is no stranger to RPP, and she makes all who work with her develop their character with integrity.

Mike Hilton deftly performs his craft of lighting and sound effects with precision. Robbie Stanley is a director’s delight as the dependable stage manager in various important roles. Period costumes chosen expertly by Arnie Preston with help from Pat Wischonke have enhanced this stellar production. The Wischonkes have been super assistant managers as well.

Suite Surrender, by playwright Michael McKeever, runs from February 14 to 17 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 18 at 5 p.m.