What happens when two of Hollywood’s biggest Divas end up at the same hotel for the same USO tour and they hate each other? They get booked into the same suite and chaos ensues, naturally. At least that’s what happens in Michael McKeever’s Suite Surrender at 1st Stage in Tysons Corner.
Athena Sinclair and Claudia McFadden have a long standing rivalry between them; and when they inadvertently end up in the same Presidential Suite at the luxurious Palm Beach Royale Hotel, Florida in May of 1942 the scene is set for sheer disaster. Mayhem and madness erupts as their handlers try to keep them apart, the hotel does everything in its power to keep them happy and the US Navy boys nearly burn the house down. It’s an uproarious sensation of a farce that will keep you laughing the whole time.
Directed by Rex Daugherty, this laugh-a-minute comedy keeps the blunders rolling as the characters bungle about trying to keep world war III from exploding between two super-star queens. With an outrageously comical cast and some stellar set and costume designs this high-end farce is a hilarious adventure that will leave you begging for more.
The costumes are outrageous. Costume Designer Dan Iwaniec brings a hint of whimsical mania to these 1940’s divas and their on-stage counterparts. With lavish blue dresses and decadent pants suits appropriate for the times he outfits this Hollywood hotshots with the appropriate level of flare to make them truly sparkle. Iwaniec outdoes himself with the extravagant nonsense that he befits to the head of the PBLFU from her zany summery day dresses to her gauzy green getup for the big gala. His work brings a true sense of hilarity to the visual aesthetic of the show.
Set Designer Steven Royal manages to create the grandiose interior of the Palm Beach Royale Hotel in an intricately detailed fashion, giving the audience bright seafoam green wall paneling with white palm tree print to feast their eyes upon for the duration of the show. The elaborate white molding and fancy furniture heighten the drama that escalates between these two divas. Having such a blush lavish set, complete with two bedrooms and a balcony that create a fictitious depth, really make the show a flawless production.
Comic challenges run high in the production as the classic signs of a farce fall into place – mistaken identities, bumbling confused servants, and the slamming of the doors. The actors of 1st Stage give a remarkable performance with electric energy that zaps the audience to a vibrant life with every scene. Executing physical comedy is not an easy task but some of the more minor characters manage to do so with great ease, making their presence an absolute hoot.
Dora Del Rio (Nora Achrati) plays into the stereotype of nosy reporter. She’s snappy and edgy with her thick Hispanic accent coating her whip-like retorts and she slinks about sniffing out scandals with laughable gestures that make her thoroughly enjoyable. Achrati gets flung about physically throughout the show and she loosens her body to the epitome of floppiness, really giving her character that extra edge as she’s thrown here, displaced there, and finally ends up one big wet mess.
The other looney-toon in this band of merry maladies to keep your eye on is Mrs. Everett P. Osgood (Lisa Hodsoll). Being the eccentric older lady, Hodsoll puts brilliant charm into her flighty character, flapping about the stage in garish dresses, making her presence as obnoxious as possible with her aloof mannerisms and quirky gestures. When she makes her grand entrances, Hodsoll bolsters through the main suite doors putting herself on the level with the divas through her sheer stage presence.
Where there are two divas there are bound to be two personal secretaries and Murphy (Stephanie Roswell) and Mr. Pippet (Bradley Foster Smith) are the perfect example of subdued, meek characters whose presence on the stage only serves to further the comedy. Roswell adapts a slightly nasally New York accent and carries her nervous disposition in her vocal sounds, lacing her words in such a way so that they always sound fraught with worry and unease whereas Smith manifests his nervous qualities in a much more physical manner. Roswell’s sudden explosion of vocal anxiety and emotions early in Act I when she encounters an old flame is priceless as the pint-sized pipsqueak character packs quite the emotional and physical punch.
Smith is the epitome of a nervous twitchy rabbit who hops to McFadden’s every demand. He dashes about the stage as if he’s scared of his own shadow while still trying to maintain the slightest hint of a backbone, His interactions with the various bellhops and Mr. Dunlap are the crowning comic glory of this production and watch his shifty eyes, they’ll have you laughing until you burst.
The two bellhops, Otis (Sam Phillips) and Francis (Daniel Corey) become interchangeable nitwits that take on the overall abuses of the show. Their general maladies implode upon the scene and one another with a great sense of comic timing, having flawless entrances, superb delivery of their senseless lines and an overall sense of riotous chaos occurring between the two as they often inadvertently switch places.
Ringmaster of the circus comes from Mr. Dunlap (Matt Dougherty) whose performance is second-t- none. Dougherty provides a stimulating character with his charming and flattering nature while still maintaining an austere approach to managing the hotel. When he breaks down into utter chaos and calamity as the play devolves around him his facial expressions portray it all. He’s filled with a frantic urge and a woeful dread as the shit hits the fan and makes a remarkable ‘head butler’ sort of figure, trying to keep everyone calm while falling into fits of hysteria.
And finally, last but certainly not least, the divas. Athena Sinclair (Katie Nigsch-Fairfax) and Claudia McFadden (Farrell Parker) clash together like the titans at war. While their time together on the stage is limited their pure burning hatred for one another resonates through their words, gestures, and harsh facial expressions. Parker is the ultimate diva with a capital ‘D’ between her shrill shrieked commands and her sense of entitlement she has the role of queen bitch finely tuned. Nigsch-Fairfax, while still demanding, plays the much more sexually charged role, letting her characters needs revolve around her stunning sexuality.
Together these woman make for one epic comedy, delivering sensational moment after moment that keeps the audience on the edge of their seats with reckless moments of laughter. Two incredible women that should not be missed in one amazing show.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.