Tin Roof Theatre’s ‘Plaza Suite’ Exposes Human Side of Relationships

Interpersonal relationships are an inevitable aspect of being human.

No matter our origin, skin color or language, we all share the responsibility of managing our relationships with our parents, significant others or colleagues — and some relationships are easier to maintain than others.

Tin Roof Theatre’s upcoming production of Neil Simon’s “Plaza Suite” exposes the sometimes bittersweet, sometimes plain hysterical situations we find ourselves in while navigating our personal relationships.

Performed in three acts, the comedy chronicles three couples and the predicaments they encounter in Suite 719 in New York City’s Plaza Hotel in 1968.

“I really believe Simon wrote this to entertain with the message that any of these three situations can happen to anyone,” said director Jim DeBrito. “Life is full of situations we can identify with on a universal level.”

The first act follows Karen and Sam Nash as they attempt to rekindle their love after 25 years of marriage. Karen (Jeanie Smith) knows the relationship is in tatters, but believes if she and Sam (Jay Nelson) relive some of the happiness they felt on their honeymoon at the Plaza Hotel years ago, maybe the marriage can be saved.

In the second act, Hollywood producer Jesse Kiplinger (Steve Borgen) tries to seduce Muriel Tate (Dawn Gunderson), a former high school girlfriend who is one of his biggest fans — and also happens to be married.

In the second act, Jesse Kiplinger (Steve Borgen) tries to seduce his former high school girlfriend, Muriel Tate (Dawn Gunderson).

The final act, which DeBrito describes as the “most hysterical” scene, follows Norma (Rita Hagstrom) and Roy Hubley (J. Malcolm Thompson) as they try to coax their nervous daughter out of the hotel bathroom on her wedding day, although the reason for her cold feet may be different than expected.

“I hope if there’s anything memorable about the production it’s that people were entertained, but also look back and reflect on their own relationships — whether it’s their parents, grandparents, friends or neighbors — to find that we get into these unpredictable situations,” DeBrito said.

Norma (Rita Hagstrom) and Roy Hubley (J. Malcolm Thompson) bicker outside the hotel bathroom, where their daughter has locked herself in on her wedding day.

DeBrito, a Theatre Arts teacher at Discovery Middle School, is guest directing for Tin Roof Theatre for the first time. The company, now in its 12th season, brings in guest directors for each of their fall and spring productions.

Area patrons may recognize DeBrito’s name from his work as the former Associate Director of Theatre and Choreographer at MSUM and Straw Hat Players. He’s also staged productions and taught classes for Trollwood Performing Arts and local high schools in the past.

Some of his most memorable productions include “Evita,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Pippin,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Man of La Mancha.” He’s been teaching at Discovery Middle School the last four years.

After plenty of experience directing theater productions, DeBrito noted works by Neil Simon pose more of a challenge and compared the process to directing Shakespeare. “I’m not directing for laughs. The laughter comes out of the situation,” he said. “The actors have to be true to that and have to find the rhythm and pacing that’s essential to tell the story.”

He said another challenge of directing “Plaza Suite” has been the rehearsal process since the production is essentially three one-act plays, but he’s enjoyed the experience with the actors so far.

For this production, Tin Roof opened up the audition process to actors outside the company’s core members. Jay Nelson, who plays Sam Nash in Act One, is one of the actors working with the company for the first time.

Nelson described himself as “late in the game” as an actor. Auditioning for a theater production had always been on his bucket list, but in 2012, he decided it was time to pursue his goal. Since then, he’s been in several community productions including “The Nerd,” “33 Variations,” “Peter and the Starcatcher” and now “Plaza Suite.”

Jay Nelson and Jeanie Smith rehearse as Sam and Karen Nash.

Other actors playing roles in the production are Konner Doucette (bellhop), Nora Flaherty (Jean McCormack), Jacky Arness (bride) and Jason Daniels (groom).

“Save time after the show for coffee or a cocktail, because you’ll want to discuss what you experienced,” Nelson advises. “It’s an entertaining show, certainly. But it will also make you think about the concepts of love, trust and longing. It’s universal.”

 If You Go

What: Tin Roof Theatre Company production of “Plaza Suite”

When: 7:30 p.m. March 17, 18, 23, 24, and 25; 2 p.m. March 19 and 26

Where: The Stage at Island Park (333 4th Street South in Fargo)

Tickets: $20 for adults, $14 for seniors and students. $8 student rush tickets will be available 10 minutes before each performance. To reserve tickets, visit tinrooftheatre.org or call 701-235-6778.

This article is part of a content partnership with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and originally appeared in the Monday, March 13 2016, issue of the paper.

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