By Leslie Simon
Three marriages in turmoil. Well, two marriages in turmoil, and one marriage that might not even happen if the bride-to-be doesn’t come out of the bathroom! Suite 719 at the Plaza Hotel sees a lot of activity, from the absurd to the dramatic. Traditionally, the play is cast with the same actors playing different characters in three one-acts, a sort of mini-repertory, and Plaza Suite’s Kate Gleason spoke with us on preparing and playing multiple characters in the same play.
In Plaza Suite, you play a different character in each of the three acts. As an actor, how do you prepare for multiple roles like this?
The great fun of developing a character, no matter what project, is finding out what makes them tick. I usually start at the beginning of the script with specific questions: Where do they come from? What brought them to this particular moment? What do they want? How do they get it? What are the stakes at any given moment? The added bonus in doing three one-acts is that you get to do this detective work three times, and you find out what connects them and what makes them distinct from one another. The fun lies in the investigation.
What makes playing Neil Simon characters special?
I am an unabashed fan of Neil Simon. I consider him a true artist, in league with Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, and Jonathan Swift. I’ve directed two of his plays, Biloxi Blues and Broadway Bound, and also taught a Neil Simon scene study class for DCPA Education. What I found was a master of the comic drama. The comedy lies in reality and it is always character driven. It’s what makes GREAT comedy- the laughs emerge from the truth in the moment. It’s a kind of heightened non-fiction and a joy to play. Simon said every play he has written was a drama with “comic moments.” When warned by Lillian Hellman not to mix comedy with drama, Simon replied, “if it’s mixed in life why can’t you do it in a play?” As an audience, we see ourselves up there on stage and we share in the experience because even in the absurdity, it feels real.
You will also be a part of our Black Box repertory company again next spring. What is that like to work with the same people for three overlapping plays?
It all comes down to trust. The plays are all different but the faces are the same. You start counting on those faces. We develop a shorthand with each other. We PLAY. We are allowed to be creative and messy because we are all in this together. Some of these people I have known and worked with, some are new faces, some are fellow artists I have admired but never worked with, but when we all get in the room at the beginning of that rep season, we know we are all on the same team. We are all in this together for the long haul. It’s a rare and extremely valuable experience, and I feel VERY lucky to be on the team.
What has acting and directing taught you about life?
Well, this is a BIG question… I suppose the best answer I can think of is something that was told to me by my friend, Allison Watrous. She was working with some teenagers, and they said acting was like learning how to be a “professional human.” What they meant, of course, is that as actors and directors we step into someone else’s shoes (sometimes literally) and we tell their story. That’s what we do: we are storytellers. And in the telling of the story we can, and often do, learn something about ourselves and others. It can be a noble adventure. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s enlightening. Sometimes it’s hilarious. But it’s NEVER boring. Kinda like life.