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Bemidji Community Theater: 'Plaza Suite' to open tonight

What makes Neil Simon's comedies so popular is that we all can see ourselves in similar situations as his characters and his insightful pokes at human foibles.

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Bridget and Ryan Stomberg play a married couple who return to their bridal suite at the Plaza Hotel in New York City for an anniversary celebration. What follows is a surprise for both of them. "Plaza Suite," a comedy by Neil Simon, opens today at the historic Chief Theatre. Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 18-20 and 3 p.m. Nov. 21. Tickets are available now at Ken K. Thompson at the Paul Bunyan Mall and Iverson's Corner Drug in downtown Bemidji and at the door starting one hour before curtain time...

What makes Neil Simon's comedies so popular is that we all can see ourselves in similar situations as his characters and his insightful pokes at human foibles.

In the play that opens this week at the historic Chief Theater, "Plaza Suite," everyone can relate to at least one of the three acts: a married couple trying to recapture the magic of their honeymoon in their original bridal suite; a man with several failed marriages trying to re-connect with a high school sweetheart; parents' comedic attempts to convince their daughter, the bride, to come out of the bathroom because the bridegroom and guests are waiting for her. This is the first production of Bemidji Community Theater for this year to be followed in December by "A Christmas Carol" in collaboration with KG Entertainment, a fully staged children's musical in the spring and the annual very silly melodrama at Bemidji State Park.

"Plaza Suite" by Neil Simon opens this week with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 18, Friday and Saturday, Nov. 19 and 20. There will be a matinee at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 21 at the historic Chief Theatre, 314 Beltrami Ave. N.W. Tickets are $12 for adults and $6 for students 17 and younger and are for sale now at Ken K. Thompson Jewelry in the Paul Bunyan Mall and Iverson Corner Drug in downtown Bemidji. Tickets will also be available at the door starting one hour before curtain time.

Mary Knox Johnson accomplished double duty as director of the third act and designer of the set.

"The task of replicating the Plaza Hotel in New York City proved to be daunting, but I feel we did a good job in doing so," said Knox-Johnson. "And having three different directors involved in each of the three acts produces a very unique perspective."

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Another familiar actor with Bemidji audiences is Bridget Stomberg who has worked behind the scenes and on stage in several family productions such as "Cinderella" and Disney's "Aladdin" last spring. In this show, Stomberg is director of the first act ("Visitor from Mamaroneck") and also plays the wife along her with real-life husband, Ryan Stomberg.

"I enjoy all aspects of theater, and directing is one of the most challenging; I thought directing my husband in his stage debut would be difficult but it hasn't been at all," said Stomberg. "My character, his wife, playfully baits her husband with heart-to-heart conversations and discovers secrets she wishes they had left behind."

For the second act, "Visitor from Hollywood," director Vicky Stenerson called upon her friend, DeeJay Arens, to play Jesse Kiplinger, a smooth talking ladies' man from California. A newcomer to BCT, Katie Carpenter plays Muriel Tate, a suburban housewife, who was his flame years ago. Muriel just wants to have a chat with Jesse, but he has other plans for their rendezvous

"Bemidji has such a wide range of talented people," said Stenerson. "It's been a pleasure working with actors I've cast in the past and also meeting new talent. I like Neil Simon's work because of his dry sense of humor; he finds that humor in life's situations."

The final act, "Visitor from Forest Hills," is about Mimsey Hubley's wedding day jitters and her parents' frantic and often ridiculous efforts to get her "out of the closet" and down the aisle. Mimsey's parents, Roy and Norman Hubley, are played by Mark Fulton who was the Pirate King in BCT's "Pirates of Penzance" and newcomer Amy Tichy. Laura Lee Miller is the bride, and Luke Rogers is her dauntless groom.

As for the set, Dwayne Johnson transformed the stage at the playhouse into a suite at the Plaza. There is even a view of Central Park from the living room window. Carolyn Towler is the stage manager and Cheryl Winnett has properties and refreshments.

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