Photos by Ryan Loyd, Rylo Media Design
This production is scheduled January 12-21, 2024.
It is a force . . . make that a farce . . . to be reckoned with.
SLO REP’s chaotic and lovable production of Michael McKeever’s 2009 comedic play Suite Surrender featuring student actors participating in the Academy of Creative Theatre program holds its own on the downtown SLO stage.
Thanks to nine talented, up-and-coming young actors, and a director adept at choreographing the physical comedy and timing needed to bring this pleasing play to life, audiences are guaranteed a solid 90 minutes of laughter and enjoyment.
Rachel Tietz—a graduate of PCPA, a veteran of The Great American Melodrama, and the assistant education director for ACT—ably demonstrates a skill and passion for working with young artists. She evidences a feel for meticulous directing, an obvious understanding of comedy (particularly the zany machinations of a screwball production like this), and an ability to work with her players to mine the subtleties of this show’s witty dialogue. It’s hard to imagine anyone else producing more sheer entertainment out of this show.
She has some great material—both story and human—to work with, starting with the show’s opening scene of two bellhops (a bubbly Sadie Badger and a delightful Julian Johnson) bursting into the Presidential Suite of the Palm Beach Royale Hotel in 1942. It seems they will provide the channel through which most of the evening’s multiple misunderstandings, mistaken identities, and misplaced roses (don’t ask) will be unveiled. These two aren’t alone, however, in provoking well-earned laughs. Their boss Mr. Dunlap, the hotel’s manager and general factotum, is played by the charming Charley Beck, who sleekly transitions the character from authoritative to understated to aghast as the situation requires.
And the situation, as it hilariously unfolds, provides fodder for the rest of the cast to make great use of their comedic chops. It seems that two competing divas (Clara Walters as Claudia and Zea Smiley as Athena, oozing melodrama and venom in equal measure) have been booked into the same suite. Compounding their rivalry is, first, the interference of society matron Mrs. Osgood (played by the inventive Tessa Roos) who at one point even tries to best Claudia in out-singing “Over the Rainbow,” and second, the antics of a single-minded gossip columnist (Greenlee Anderson, sassy and determined), who wants to get to the bottom of the divas’ dispute.
Then there are the anxious maneuvers of Mr. Pippet, Claudia’s harried and obsequious gofer, and Murphy, Athena’s smart but love-addled secretary. Jonah Vander Kam as the former—at one point trying desperately to get an olive into Claudia’s moving-target martini just the way she likes it—and Gwyneth Lincoln as the latter, provide the subtle embellishments to their characters that induce the audience to sympathize, yet laugh out loud at their predicaments.
In the midst of door-slamming entrances and just-missed exits (all of which are achieved expertly and without a hitch), the care and handling of one Mr. Boodles must be noted. Along with the luggage, Claudia’s heard-but-never-seen pooch (swaddled in a baby’s blanket or bassinet) proves to be one more ingenious prop (including the aforementioned roses and several fetching photos of Athena) that cast members handle smoothly and proficiently.
Supporting the production with excellent costume and scenic design are Cheryl Nacario and Dave Linfield, respectively. Capturing the ‘40s aesthetic with style and grace, Nacario’s glamorous suits on both women and men, accessories such as fur collars and bright ties, and stunning evening looks like Athena’s green ensemble with over-the-elbow gloves invoke the showbiz element of the war years. And the set’s palm trees, pink walls, and hotel balcony simply scream Palm Beach.
Stage manager Lester Wilson and his assistant Lindsay Smith have mastered the art of keeping a show like this on track. Suite Surrender rolls merrily along in amusing waves of wit and well-rehearsed staging, making for a joyful, playful, and delightful evening.