AMERICAN playwright Neil Simon had a knack for putting engaging and recognisable characters into his comedies, even when they were short works that had very different people.
While a New York resident, for example, he penned Plaza Suite, with the four episodes showing a variety of couples who visited the city and spent a night in a suite in the popular title hotel.
After Simon moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1970s to work on screenplays, he wrote another four-episode comedy, California Suite, set in a leading accommodation venue, the Beverly Hills Hotel, and it has also been a hit with audiences since it premiered in 1976.
Neil Simon, who wrote more than 30 popular stage shows, died in August 2018 and Newcastle's G and S Players are staging California Suite in tribute to him, with performances at St Matthew's Church Hall, in Wentworth Street, Georgetown, from March 29 to April 7.
There are two adjoining rooms in this play's suite, with the occupants' actions showing very different natures when they are alone.
The first vignette, Visitor from New York, has a woman who is a respected magazine writer and editor coming to California to meet her ex-husband after their 17-year-old daughter unexpectedly heads west to join him. And, while the pair have been divorced for 11 years, it is clear from their sharp words and actions that nothing has changed since they parted.
In Visitor from Philadelphia a conservative Jewish middle-aged businessman has come to Los Angeles to attend the bar mitzvah of his nephew. He wakes up the morning after to find an attractive young woman lying beside him in the bed.
As he is expecting his wife to arrive that morning, he desperately tries to hide the woman. But when she is about to leave, his wife arrives, forcing him to try and stop her from coming into the bedroom.
He is unaware how the woman came to be with him, because he spent the time after the ceremony drinking non-stop, and is aghast when he finds out why she is there.
Visitors from London has a British actress and her husband preparing to head off to the Academy Awards, as she has been nominated for best actress.
Her husband has long been hiding something about his nature from her, and it comes out when they return from the ceremony. Does she win an Oscar? You'll need to see the play to find out.
The final work, Visitors from Chicago, has two pairs of best friends trekking around the US on holiday. While they are in Los Angeles nothing goes right. When they are playing a doubles tennis match, one woman is injured when struck by a ball hit by the other woman. And that is just the beginning of their angry gripes.
California Suite actors are Laura D'Amico, Ann-Maree Day, Kim MacKay, Geoff McLauchlan, Steve McLauchlan, Jen Masson, Sandra Monk, David Murray and Renee Thomas. Father and son Steve McLauchlan and Geoff McLauchlan also each direct two of the episodes.
Jen Masson and Geoff McLauchlan note that Neil Simon is very demanding of the actors. Geoff points to the episodes having a lot of physical comedy and Jen to the nature of his punch lines.
California Suite has $45 dinner performances at 7pm on Fridays and Saturdays, March 29-30, and April 5-6, and $25 2pm show-only matinees on Sundays March 31 and April 7. Bookings: 0457 979 227.
The continuing popularity of the children's entertainment team, The Wiggles, which formed in 1991, is shown by the fact that virtually all 36 of the March to May NSW and Queensland venues included in its 10-month Wiggle Fun Tour have sold out.
At the time of writing, there are just a few single seats left for the Newcastle Civic Theatre 10.30am and 12.30pm performances on Saturday, March 30. Go to ticketek or ring 4929 1977 to find out if tickets, all $29.90, are still available.
The show has Emma, Lachy, Anthony and Simon singing and dancing their way around Australia with all their Wiggly Friends: Captain Feathersword, Dorothy the Dinosaur, Wags the Dog, Henry the Octopus and Shirley Shawn the Unicorn. And it features songs and games including Do the Propeller, E-M-M-A, Simon Says, Hot Potato and Rock-a-Bye Your Bear.
THE 2019 Newcastle Fringe Festival gave people a chance to see unusual and entertaining theatre, with five engaging and amusing works staged by local groups that showed just what could be put into performances ranging from 55 to 70 minutes.
Clark Gormley, a musician who merges laugh-getting stories with smile-raising songs, presented Further Up the Nerdsville Track, a revised version of his work that looks amusingly at Australian history, geography and culture, with bright songs such as the romantic On Murray, Darling.
With musical partner Wayne Thompson in the show Nerds & Music Play the Fringe, there were numbers such as A Sea Shanty About the NBN in which they looked at the part played by shanties in Australian music.
Brides of March, put together by Bree Cunningham, Jan Hunt, Bronwyn Kanitz, and Anissa Thomas, raised much laughter with their look at how marriages are arranged, with one scene showing two witches, from a company called Catastrophic Concoctions Catering, chanting "bubble, bubble" while stirring a large cauldron.
The Plastic Beach, developed by new La Partida Theatre Group, with Chile-raised performer Stephanie Rochet one of its founders (the name is Spanish for The Start), looked through comedy, movement and music at people trying to live happier lives on a beach.
And Dark Stories How to Survive an Apocalypse, a show that has won raves since it was first staged at the 2010 Edinburgh Fringe, had four local actors as members of the School of Survival (SOS) getting watchers to help work out how they would indeed survive.