Rick Cortellessa has been the father of a bride, but never like the father he plays in the upcoming Ivoryton Players production of Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite. The production takes place on Friday and Saturday, Dec. 1 and 2 in the theater on the top floor of the Deep River Town Hall.
Plaza Suite involves three couples, each pair staying at a different time in Suite 719 of New York’s Plaza Hotel.
As penny-pinching Roy Hubley, Rick has more to worry about than how much the wedding is going to cost him. His problem: Will there be a wedding at all? His daughter, Mimsey, the bride-to-be, has locked herself in the suite’s bathroom and refuses to come out for the ceremony. Rick as Roy Huntley and his wife, Norma, played by Mary Ellen “M.E.” Rich, try different strategies to get their daughter to unlock the door. First Rick cajoles; next he tries breaking down the door; then he climbs out a window onto a ledge hoping to edge over to the bathroom window and convince his daughter to come out.
“It gets more and more slapstick, more and more hilarious,” Rick says.
Rick is one of the charter members of the Ivoryton Players. The Ivoryton Playhouse sponsors the community group, founded by director Joyce Beauvais. Performing with the Ivoryton Players is far from Rick’s theatrical debut. He has had a long career in community theater in Westchester County, both as an actor and a director. His roles include two Arthur Miller classics, Eddie Carbone in A View from the Bridge, and Chris in All My Sons. He has directed productions of Oklahoma, 12 Angry Men, and No, No Nanette.
Not too long after Rick moved permanently to what had been a summer and weekend house in Old Saybrook, he saw a newspaper notice that caught his eye.
“When I read an article about a group theater forming, I jumped on it. It was exactly what I wanted,” he says.
Rick’s theatrical debut occurred in junior high school in play, the name of which he recalls as Sally Takes a Bow. That’s all it took to hook him on theater.
“I loved the reaction of the audience, the applause, just being up there,” he says.
At A.B. Davis High School in Mount Vernon, New York, he played Prince Charming in Sleeping Beauty, a production that earned him a degree of tormenting from his own peers.
“I got some teasing for playing Prince Charming. I guess I had a pretty tough group of friends,” he says.
He adds that A. B. Davis has a proud theatrical tradition. Actors Art Carney, Denzel Washington, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, and Sidney Poitier are all graduates.
After high school, Rick got a job as an intern at CBS, but also studied acting with Lee Grant and Jean Muir hoping for a theatrical career. But Dee—then his steady girl, now his wife of 56 years—had other ideas.
“She told me I should really go to college,” he recalls. “That was not a part of my plans.”
Still, Rick took Dee’s advice and applied to New York University.
“I think I talked my way in,” he recalls.
He majored in radio, television, and motion picture production, and spent his professional career in the field of marketing, all the while continuing to act in local productions.
Now that he is retired, actually retired for the third time, and he is focusing not only on acting, but also on teaching others the skills he has perfected over a lifetime. He has run a trial workshop on acting techniques at Acton Public Library in Old Saybrook, and hopes to run another such program.
“I can teach people the mechanics, the process, but they need to have the desire and motivation,” he says. “I can give them the tools. It is up to them to use them.”
Playing a role convincingly, Rick says, involves understanding not only your own character, but also the relationship of that character to the others in the play.
“You have to know who you are, where you are, where you come from, and what your objective is,” he says. “And then you have to relate the character to you own personality and your own experiences, to life experience. You have to make the character believable.”
Rick points out that believability can often revolve around things so small as to be unnoticeable, unless they are not there. He notes that drinking a cup of coffee seems simple, but even there, technique matters.
“People will drink it, but they forget one thing. They forget to swallow,” he says.
Rick is particularly impressed by the work Beauvais has done with the Ivoryton Players, a group that includes people with no prior acting involvement as well as others with stage experience.
“I love looking at the growth that has taken place of the past few years and I am thrilled to be a part of it,” he says. “It’s a group of talented players who leave individual egos at the door. That can be unusual in theater.”
The Ivoryton Players have done scenes from Neil Simon’s plays on prior occasions as well as a complete production of another Simon play, Fools, a comic tale about a small Ukrainian village where a curse has made the entire population permanently addle-brained.
“(Director) Joyce knows comedy; she knows exactly what she is doing,” Rick says.
And he loves how the comedy develops in his act of Plaza suite.
“This is Neil Simon at his best. The writing just flows,” he says.
When he looks back, Rick says he has no regrets about not pursing a career in acting.
“There was the economy to consider, financial things. I have two children; now I have four grandchildren. People said if you don’t try it, you’ll regret it, but I don’t really regret how things turned out. I’m okay with it,” he concludes.
Still, he does admit one thing.
“Sometimes I think I’m happiest when I’m on stage,” he says.
Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite
Presented by the Ivoryton Players on Friday, Dec. 1 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Dec. 2 at 1 p.m. at the Deep River Town Hall Theater (elevator accessible). Tickets, $12 in advance, are available at the Ivoryton Playhouse box office, 860-767-7318, or at the door.