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Diva on diva comedy at 1st Stage

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Entertainment,Barbara Mackay

If farces deal in improbabilities, their characters encountering one another as they enter and exit innumerable doors, their language spinning at fever pitch, then Michael McKeever's "Suite Surrender" at 1st Stage qualifies as a farce: five doors allow for plenty of comings and goings as McKeever relates a fast-paced diva versus diva comedy.

It's 1942 and the suite is reserved for Claudia McFadden (Farrell Parker), a famous American singer. She's in town to give a USO benefit show organized by Palm Beach society ladies, chief among them Mrs. Everett P. Osgood (Lisa Hodsoll).

Due to some confusion, both McFadden and her arch-rival, Athena Sinclair (Katie Nigsch-Fairfax), who is also performing at the benefit, are both booked into the same suite and the entire play revolves around what contortions the five other characters must put themselves through to make sure the two women don't meet.

Things are hardest on Bernard Dunlap (Matt Dougherty), general manager of the hotel. Dougherty is very entertaining, continually on the verge of exploding under the pressure of balancing two impossible superstars.

Onstage
'Suite Surrender'
Where: 1st Stage, 1524 Spring Hill Rd., McLean
When: Through October 14
Info: $15 to $25; 703-854-1856; 1stStageTysons.org

Life isn't easy for the divas' support staff, either. Bradley Foster Smith excels as the overagitated Mr. Pippet, Claudia's personal secretary, who must make his employer's endless martinis and walk her dog in addition to making sure her music and clothes are perfect. Stephanie Roswell is well cast as Murphy Stevens, Athena's capable personal secretary.

Lisa Hodsoll is priceless as Mrs. Osgood, who continually turns up for no ostensible reason, smiling broadly, laden with diamonds and pearls. Nora Achrati, who plays Dora del Rio, a gossip columnist who gets clobbered by doors, knocked unconscious and stuffed into a closet, is the most amusing character in the play and Achrati has the kind of lithe athleticism and comic timing to pull off the role.

Daniel Corey as Francis, who is in love with Murphy, and Sam Phillips as Otis are delightful as the ever-baffled bellhops.

McFadden is a commanding narcissist and Parker plays her as a classic self-promoting ogre. Sinclair is not as scary as McFadden and Nigsch-Fairfax plays her with a lighter touch. Both actresses are sensational singers, and provide a grand final duet to prove that their characters deserve their legendary status.

Farce is a difficult genre to pull off, as it calls for intense speed and precision, but with Rex Daugherty directing, this "Suite Surrender" races its way to a delightful, raucous conclusion.

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