The playwright Neil Simon was one of Broadway’s defining talents, a household name whose work was so popular that he once had four shows running on Broadway at the same time. It’s been a decade since one of his plays has gotten a major New York production, but that’s about to change this spring. A starry new staging of Simon’s Plaza Suite returns the work of this prolific powerhouse to Broadway, and will offer audiences the chance to savor the wit, the humanity, and the heart that made him such a favorite.
Playing a limited engagement at the Emerson Colonial Theatre in Boston February 5 to February 22 before it arrives at Broadway’s Hudson Theatre for a run that begins March 13, this new Plaza Suite is driven by the affection for Simon shared by its lead actors, Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, and its director, John Benjamin Hickey.
Broderick’s connection to Simon, the Tony and Pulitzer winner who died in 2018, runs especially deep, since the actor’s big break came in the original 1983 staging of Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs, for which Broderick won a Tony. Simon also penned Broderick’s first film, Max Dugan Returns.
“We worked together very closely four times, and two of them were my first big play and my first movie, so those are the ones you remember most,” Broderick recalls. “I grew up on Neil’s plays, and in his plays. He was a deep influence in my life and work.”
This revival of Plaza Suite grew out of a one-night-only reading at the Manhattan cultural center Symphony Space. All three of the collaborators remember being struck not only by the humor in the 1968 show, in which two actors play three romantically entangled couples in a trio of scenes set at New York’s famous Plaza Hotel but they were also taken with how emotionally resonant the show felt.
“It seemed to all of us that this play was both hilarious and absurd, but also really examining, in Neil’s own personal way, relationships and love, and marriage at particular moments, marriages that are mature and marriages that are at quite serious crossroads,” says Parker. “And, of course, just to be in a theatre in the hands of an enormously capable comic playwright is a joy.”
“All three of us were just blown away by how funny the play remains, and also how heart-piercing it is,” adds Hickey, who’s doing double duty on Broadway this season with his acting gig in The Inheritance. “Neil was such a great surgeon, as far as getting inside the human heart and illuminating it. Plaza Suite was written in a different time, but the women’s parts are every bit as dynamic and strong and assertive as the men’s. Rediscovering it felt like unearthing a treasure, and when we read it at Symphony Space, it went gangbusters.”
It went so well, in fact, that the trio decided to reunite for a full production. It’s a commitment the creative team of Plaza Suite takes seriously: Hickey said the three have already begun gathering on Sunday evenings to read the play together over dinner. “We’re all going to work our butts off to bring Neil back to a modern audience,” he says. “For someone my age, Neil Simon plays were a part of your existence. They were part of your culture. There’s an accessibility to his work that sometimes can be mistaken for lacking the depths of Tennessee Williams or Arthur Miller, but I disagree with that. Sarah, Matthew, and I all believe he’s singular, and one of the most important voices of the modern American theater.”
With Plaza Suite, audiences can look forward to seeing why. All three collaborators say they can’t wait to dive into the play’s deft mix of humor and emotion, encompassing both the wistful human comedy of the first scene as well as the wild hilarity of the third part.
“There’s so much to love in this play,” says Parker. “For the actors, there are three different roles, and each one is a really different person. There are wonderful challenges, both intellectual and emotional — and, I should add, physical!”
For Broderick, Plaza Suite represents the chance to re-engage with the work of the Broadway legend who had a formative influence on his career. “I’m glad to get another chance at it,” he says. “There are so many greats who I worked with on those plays, and I feel like I’m trying to keep all of that group, and everything I learned from them, in my backpack and go forward.”
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