Neil Simon's 'London Suite' Cruises On Autopilot

London Suite

At the Union Square Theatre.

When Neil Simon announced that his newest work, ''London Suite,'' would bypass Broadway and instead play at an Off Broadway theater, many took it as a clear death knell for the Great White Way. If Simon, the most commercially successful Broadway playwright ever, felt that Broadway wasn't for him anymore, then who or what is it for?

Simon's decision was based on the fact that his last play, ''Laughter on the 23rd Floor,'' received largely good reviews and ran for many months on Broadway, but still didn't manage to show a profit. ''London Suite'' may prove more of a test case than even he anticipated: If this, his weakest effort in years, succeeds, it will prove the commercial viability of staying away from Broadway.

''London Suite'' is the successor to Simon's earlier works, ''Plaza Suite'' and ''California Suite.'' Each is composed of several one-acts, linked by their taking place in the same luxury hotel room. But the writing here neither displays the riotous humor of ''Laughter on the 23rd Floor,'' nor the soul-searching depth in even a flawed work like ''Jake's Women.'' It's Simon on autopilot. (Of course, Simon on autopilot is funnier than most writers at the peak of their form.)

The stars of the production -- Carole Shelley, Paxton Whitehead, Kate Burton, and Jeffrey Jones -- play various roles throughout the four one-acts. The slight curtain raiser is a comic encounter between a writer (Jones) whose talents have deserted him and the accountant (Whitehead) who has embezzled him out of millions. The second play is enlivened by Carole Shelley, who plays a widow forced by her daughter to go out with an Englishman she just met.

The third, and most substantial play, reunites Diana and Sidney, the bickering British couple from ''California Suite.'' Diana, now a successful actress, receives a plea for help from Sidney (now exclusively gay). The acting is impeccable, but the material is abrupt and unconvincing.

The fourth play, ''The Man on the Floor,'' finds Simon working in the farcical mode, with a sketch about a man (Jones) immobilized by a bad back.

''London Suite'' is efficiently directed by Daniel Sullivan, but it's hard to avoid thinking that Simon's reasons for going Off Broadway were not just financial; maybe he realized that the play just wasn't good enough.

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