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Book a reservation for 'California Suite'

Playwright, screenwriter and author Neil Simon may be at his wittiest, compassionate best with "California Suite," a confection of a play divided into four stories, all taking place in the same room of a Beverly Hills Hotel.

Similar in structure to Simon's earlier "Plaza Suite," visitors from New York City, Philadelphia, London and Chicago check into the hotel and deal with squabbling exes, feuding friends, a seemingly cheating husband and an emotional actress in town for the Academy Awards.

The show opens with a reception at 6:30 p.m. Friday, June 23, at Randall Theatre, 520 N. Fifth St., Jacksonville. Tickets are $22 and include food, beverages and reserved seating. Other performances are set for 7 p.m. Saturday, June 24, Fridays and Saturdays, June 29-30 and June 30-July 1, and Thursday through Saturday, July 6-8. Matinees are at 2 p.m. Sundays, June 25 and July 2.

Tickets are $20 for reserved seating and can be purchased at randalltheatre.com or by calling 541-632-3258. Pay-what-you-want tickets are available 30 minutes before shows, subject to availability.

In "Visitor from New York," Hannah Warren, played by V. Simone Stewart, is a Manhattan workaholic who flies to Los Angeles to retrieve her teenage daughter Jenny after the girl left home to be with her screenwriter father, William. The bickering divorced couple struggles to decide what living arrangements are best for their daughter.

Conservative middle-aged businessman Marvin Michaels, played by David Eisenberg, is the "Visitor from Philadelphia," who awakens to discover a lady of the evening named Bunny, played by Alex Bringer, in his bed after a night of drinking vodka. With his wife Millie, (Judith Rosen) on her way up to the suite, he must find a way to conceal his uncharacteristic indiscretion.

"The Visitors from London" are British actress Diana Nichols (Rosen), a first-time nominee for the Academy Award for Best Actress, and her husband Sidney (John Richardson). The Oscar could jump start her faltering career. As she prepares for her moment in the spotlight, her moods change from hope to panic, then despair.

Two couples who are best friends are "The Visitors from Chicago." Stu Franklyn and his wife Gert, played by Richardson and Stewart, and Mort Hollender and his wife Beth, played by Anderson and Rosen, are on a much-needed vacation. The fun and relaxation begin to unravel when Beth is hurt during a mixed-doubles tennis match and Mort accuses Stu of having caused her injury by lobbing the ball.

Beth Boulay directs Simon's comic tour de force at Randall. Boulay is known for her work with puppet theater troupe Puppeteers For Fears and promises to bring her fresh, quick and zany style to the characters in the four stories.

Q: What is special about this production of California Suite? Why do you think audiences will enjoy it?

California Suite takes place in a Beverly Hills hotel suite in the '70s. The gender roles at that time were breaking and shifting, and we are coming at it with 21st-century eyes. It is very intimate, almost voyeuristic in nature, which brings up questions about vulnerability, strength and compromise. The audience is allowed a glimpse into these peoples’ lives just when they are at their most vulnerable.

Q: What is the easiest thing about directing this show?

Working with Simon’s language and how he weaves the dialogue around itself is a treat. Discovering new layers with the actors every night, making something brand new with them and helping it grow.

Q: What is the most difficult?

A show is a puzzle without a picture on the front of the box, and some of the pieces are blank and have to be filled in. Bringing those pieces together so they fit in a cohesive way is a challenge. And, as a younger director, I feel a certain amount of pressure to portray these varied relationships in truthful ways. I have the team to help me there.

Q: What excites you about being a director?

The director shapes the play like no other person involved in the process of putting it on. The relationships that happen between the characters take place out in front for all to see. Guiding those moments is a privilege and thrill.

Alex Bringer strikes a pose under the coffee table, along with David Eisenberg, left, John Richardson and Levi Anderson, who appear in 'California Suite,' running through July 8 at Randall Theatre in Jacksonville. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson] Photo