The play chosen for this report is Plaza Suite, written by Neil Simon, which plays out in three extensive acts. Each act of the play covers events that unfold between three different sets of characters while categorically addressing the common theme of marriage. All three acts of the play make determining its overall theme a subjective inquiry that invariably leads to conclusions of marital discontent and challenges of married life. Others might argue that the play is a light-hearted poke at the marriage in a self-reflective approach to a common social theme that is central to every social setting of human civilisation.
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However, the play provides an insightful look into the dark side of marriage, a topic that is seldom openly addressed, and how that side changes an individual’s perceptions of life (Monsma 2014, p. 4). Below the surface concerns of the play in terms of marital challenges, the play provokes thoughts about resentment, tolerance and social pressure. The information in this report represents a director’s notebook documenting my comprehension of the play and how I intend to present it to an audience on a stage platform of choice.
Why I Chose the Play
After reading several other suitable plays for this assignment, I chose Neil Simon’s play because it addressed a common societal theme that receives much attention despite the fact that no universal best approach has been identified to date. The play covers the interactions of three sets of married individuals that are marked by negative connotations, courtesy of their active choices founded on faulty marriage ideals.
The outcomes of the three acts in the play offer insightful information regarding the types of practices that the characters demonstrate. Marriage provides a foundation for social life in part through dictating the shape and size of the family, thereby making it an important element for study. Along those lines, I have chosen this play because it embodies a study of marriage. In addition, Plaza Suite presents several advantages for such study as indicated below.
Having read the play, I identified several positive reasons for choosing this play, which also accompanied a set of challenges that equally affected the study. These advantages and challenges formed the basis for the interpretation of the play, along with the vision I have developed regarding the play that I would seek to project to my target audience.
The play documents various stages of married life in three acts that cover the interactions of a squabbling couple, their daughter who is locked in the bathroom, a prowling unattached male and a contentious couple devoid of marital nostalgia. The play is relatively short and direct in presenting its themes, allowing me sufficient room to interpret and project my ideas about the happenings in each act. Each of the three acts presents a distinct set of characters while reflecting the same universal theme, which is beneficial particularly in the process of portraying diverse facets of marriage using different characters to contextualise my vision for the audience.
The play covers a relatable topic in the form of marriage, providing a simple connection with audience members who might relate to the story being told in the play. In addition, the play skillfully captures the relationship between the main characters and the main theme of each act, which I intend to transmit to the audience. The final benefit of the play I have chosen is that it addresses a theme that cuts across social, economic and political boundaries, allowing it to transcend the boundaries of time so that it is even relevant to the next generation.
Choosing this play by Neil Simon also presents several challenges that affect the ability to communicate the intended message to the target audience. In each of its three acts, the play has a limited number of characters that interact with one another or with other characters outside the scene. The challenge lies in the struggle to communicate the message in each act within the constrictions that the restricted cast of characters presents.
The play is also well-known, enjoying widespread coverage in literature and media platforms, and as a result, the target audience may possess a predetermined personal bias. The challenge herein lies with the preconditioned mind of a target member arriving with a critical mindset and looking to compare my version with other live performances or movie screen adaptations of Neil Simon’s play.
As such, it would be a challenge to capture and retain the audience’s attention without drawing too much ire for not conforming to their personal bias. The play is significantly short in comparison to other plays, which could be argued to be an advantage, but I consider it a challenge because of the considerable room left for the audience to fill in regarding the background of each of the characters in my play. My most significant challenge involved sticking to my initial vision of the play in light of external factors of influence such as the space on stage, the props available and the predisposition of the audience, among others.
The Play Text, Its Context and Ideas Presented In the Play
The author used Plaza Suite (1968) to explore family relationships during the contemporary period against a background of significant events in the United States. Some allusions captured in the fictional three acts directly relate to real-world events that occurred in 1968, while the rest of the happenings merely provide complementary contextualization of the play. The fact that the significant events of the time affected the political climate, as well as the culture of the United States, could have contributed to the popularity of the play. The year 1968 marked the capture of the USS Pueblo by North Korea, sparking a yearlong crisis that escalated already tense international relationships stemming from cold war tensions (Mobley 2015, p. 1).
In particular, this incident resulted in the death of a crew member of the ship and imprisonment of the rest of the crew, exacerbating relations between the United States and North Korea until a resolution was finally achieved (Mobley 2015, p. 1).
The year also marked the assassination of the wildly popular civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee, cutting his life short at the age of 39. King was rushed to St. Joseph’s, a local hospital, for treatment and resuscitation, but he failed to regain consciousness and was pronounced dead (Reddick 2018). Riots broke out in different cities in the aftermath of his death despite the plea of other civil rights leaders of that time.
The overlying theme of assassination entrenched itself further in the history of the United States as the country witnessed the murder of Robert Kennedy, younger brother of the earlier assassinated President John F. Kennedy, at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Sirhan Sirhan attacked the younger Kennedy after the political candidate had just concluded a speech in the hotel ballroom, shooting him in the head and in the back, leaving Kennedy dead at the age of 42 (Rohrich, Nagarkar, Stokes & Weinstein, 2013, p. 1348).
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The year 1968 also marked the year that two US athletes in the Summer Olympics in Mexico City decided to make a global statement by conducting a staged silent protest against racial discrimination. The simple act of defiance of the two individuals in raising their fists during the playing of the national anthem elicited the condemnation of the Olympic committee (Witherspoon 2008). It is interesting to note that the events documented above underlined an overall theme of change in conventional thinking or people’s approach to everyday life.
The civil rights movement and the Kennedy administration spearheaded social change that sought to bring equality to the general population in the United States. The act of defiance by the two Olympians was aimed to elicit social change by targeting the rampant racial discrimination that they were witnessing in society (Hrynkow 2013, p. 53). Such events parallel the intentions of playwright Neil Simon, who attempted to change perceptions about marriage by highlighting its frailties and shortcomings to his target audience.
The play text consists of three separate acts that address marriage from the perspective of three illustrations of marriage comprising three couples and one single individual. The play covers the interaction between the three sets of individuals within a specific suite at the Plaza Hotel as they explore the difficulties of life as seen from the perspective of marriage. The first act tells a story from a third-person point of view, where the audience is introduced to a charismatic wife named Karen Nash.
Karen is actively attempting to reignite a spark in her marriage by staging a romantic escapade in the room where she and her husband originally spent their honeymoon (Simon). In sharp contrast to her charming and excitable character, her husband Sam is irritable and unwilling to partake in the caviar and champagne. He arrives at the hotel suite in an icy mood and berates his wife at every given opportunity, even regarding non-trivial matters. He is more attentive towards his work than his wife, but I have discerned the hint of an extra source of distraction in the play that I could explore when presenting the play on a stage (Simon).
The first act is indicative of the challenges of staying married over a long period and suffering from physiological challenges. For example, Karen and Sam are unable to agree on dates and numbers related to their married life, which causes Karen frustration and seems to infuriate Sam, who lashes out with mean comments. The first act leads to the second act, where the play tells the story of two former sweethearts who are having a private rendezvous in the suite in a scene that serves to highlight the inadequate nature of marriages and married life. The two characters in this act are Jesse Kiplinger, a budding Hollywood producer, and Muriel Tate, a suburban wife with three children.
Muriel is seemingly open to the idea of an extramarital affair despite the marital and maternal commitments that she frequently alludes to early on in the act. The play suggests that Muriel is in an unhappy or unfulfilling marriage, leading to her decision to pursue a high school sweetheart to remind her of a time when she was happy and fulfilled.
The second act directly leads to the third act in which the married couple portrayed are experiencing a period of disagreement. The latest disagreement, explored onstage in the act, involves the pre-marital jitters of the couple’s child, leading to the parents bickering bitterly. The couple in the third act, Norma and Roy Hubley are attempting to goad their daughter into leaving the bathroom to attend her wedding. The failed attempts lead to the parents hurling insults and harsh words at each other in their frustration.
Because their daughter, Mimsey, does not give in to their coaxing, the couple begins to employ bullying and threats, bringing greater gravity to the situation for the young bride-to-be who continues to refuse to come out of the locked bathroom. The couple in question is representative of individuals who have yet to find a balance in their personal lives as husband and wife. In the illustration, they continue to engage in squabbles like toddlers despite the fact that they are parents to a young adult who is of legal age to be married.
The themes explored in the play text are reminiscent of the overarching themes in the context of contemporary events on the national scene, addressed above in reference to US society overall, where racism and civil rights are at the heart of the call for social change. The three acts depict different individuals as they suffer from the disadvantages of being at different levels of marriage, and each stage brings out the worst in their characters (Rashad 2015, p. 12).
The release of the play in 1968 appears to be intentional in the sense that it sought to sensitise the public to the shortfalls of marriage and the need for change in a similar manner to the contextual information provided herein. Continuing on the same path without making necessary alterations will result in negative outcomes for the couples involved in the process, leading to the types of outcomes portrayed in the three acts of the play. These ideas are presented in the play regarding the relationships between the characters and the rest of their environment with the aim of formulating better rules of engagement.
I believe that Neil Simon is trying to criticise marriage for the false dream that it is, particularly the version where couples live happily ever after as peddled by society (Simon). The entire play documents three separate instances where marriage is nothing short of a barrage of confrontations and negativity as opposed to the happy-go-lucky view of society. Different religions may define marriage using a similar framework, but none of them provides the depictions of the emotional and physical toll that marriage exerts on an individual.
As such, Plaza Suite explores a defunct marriage where the partners put up with one another, a marriage that causes one partner to break the marriage vows, and a confrontational relationship between partners. None of the three depictions of marriage shows the relationship in a positive light, reaffirming earlier claims about marriage being a social façade that is trapping many couples (Mirecki, Chou, Elliott & Schneider 2013, p. 81). The playwright leaves it to the audience to decide what they think of the message in the play by strictly sticking to portraying the characters as they are without appealing to the audience.
I also believe that the criticism levelled at the institution of marriage serves as a proactive effort to reshape marriage into a plausible and reasonable arrangement that does not result in resentment between partners. Thus, Plaza Suite presents a call for the introduction of measures for intervening in marital situations through the improvement of individuals from the point of their character state. The play identifies the centrality of marriage to the normal functions of society, where the family is the deciding factor.
The play uses different characters to illustrate the negative implications of marriage, as in the case of Karen and Sam, who are not on the same level of understanding. In the character of Sam, the playwright displays resentment in a marriage that soon sprouts and develops into something undesirable. The play also uses Muriel and Jessie to illustrate how a fractious marriage could lead to infidelity regardless of commitment. Finally, the play also highlights the pressure that marriage puts on families where each member fights against others for selfish gain. These characters sum up the entire play, which fulfils its role in the development of my artistic response to the play, as addressed in the report below.
My Artistic Response and Creative Ideas on How the Play Should Be Staged to an Audience, and What Is the Target Audience
In my view, the play should be presented to the audience as a gloomy piece that emphasises the theme of discord in marriage as a retort to the mainstream versions of this institution. The play proceeds in three separate acts, addressing marriage from the different point of view of each of the characters involved in each act (Babalola 2017, p. 2). The audience is expected to draw inferences regarding the feelings and emotions that each character displays in interacting on the stage with fellow characters and stage props. In my view, the playwright’s presentation of the play does not fully capture the extent of damage that a failed marriage can wreak on the individual.
The author sets a light tone in the sense that the proceedings appear to lack any specific repercussions for any of the characters involved and their actions (Simon). For example, the first act details a lively wife who is seeking to strengthen the bond between herself and her husband through a tentative attempt at romantic nostalgia. However, the husband does not appear interested in the matter and uses the opportunity to berate his wife about her forgetfulness regarding their anniversary date.
The same overlying theme infuses the second act where a married wife is about to break her wedding vows with a high school sweetheart. Muriel is fully aware of her status as a mother and a wife, but she is knowingly breaking a vow to her husband and children in a selfish pursuit. Therefore, any portrayals of this act must be bereft of banter that could appear as taking the matter lightly (Gabriel 2014, p. 156).
In my opinion, the staging of this play requires the introduction of theme music and colour lighting to emphasise the ability of the play to communicate to the target audience. The theme music and the lighting will highlight the nefarious nature of Muriel’s act, which contradicts mainstream expectations of a woman in a valid marriage. Thus, any self-indulgence that Muriel and Jessie share, in this second act, that society classifies as immoral must be presented in a negative light to establish the plight of married women all over the world.
The third and final act is more of a humorous representation of marital discord between parents who are looking to marry off their daughter. The parents appear to have fulfilled their responsibilities to their child, barring the final act of giving her in marriage to her husband. The only notable blot on the institution of marriage that I could perceive here was the hurtful exchange of words between the parents while trying to persuade their daughter to come out of the bathroom. Naturally, such exchanges might draw laughter from the audience, potentially undermining a strong point about domestic abuse by married couples.
Any form of abuse is not conducive to a relationship, regardless of the prevailing circumstances that might tempt the partners (Pandey 2016, p. 817). As such, this scene should be presented with the appropriate tonality to convey this message to the target audience through the actions of the characters, the lighting and the theme music. The intended message should stir resentment regarding the fragilities of marriage and pity for the victims of dysfunctional marriages that end up leaving scars on the participants.
The play should be staged as an intense review of societal happenings where the target audience uses their rational mind to deduce the message. The staging of the play should focus on such human qualities of the characters as well endear them to the members of the audience. The play does not have the luxury of ambiguity where the director can change major events in the script to accommodate a personal message in the play. The only plausible option would be to make adjustments that infuse the characters with more human and relatable characters to ultimately build a connection with the audience (Gabriel 2014, p. 152).
That connection will provide a stable platform for the director to present the case to the pacified audience members who are watching the play. Such a message could catalyse the introduction of changes to society that would see married couples receive the support and affection they deserve for their part in the marriage relationship. Thus, staging the play as a mirror event that criticises society is an ideal approach to adapting the play for a live audience.
The play documents marital frustrations that cause irrational decision-making among individuals of legal age, thereby making them my target audience. Every society has legalities in place that dictate the legal age at which an individual can enter into a binding marriage arrangement ratified by the law (Charsley 2013, p. 18).
A significant percentage of the target audience are individuals who fall into the category of married individuals, while the remainder may be classified as belonging to the group of individuals who are of legal age to take part in marriage.
Every other form of social, economic and political classification falls within the constraints of classification as being married or being single. The message as portrayed by the characters stands to change the relationship within married couples who might be undergoing marital frustrations. Additionally, it could influence the decision-making choices for individuals who have yet to make a marital commitment, leading to a better society in the near future. Thus, the only plausible exclusion criteria would be the inability to meet the legal requirements to partake in a legally binding marriage ceremony (Charsley 2013, p. 18).
Directorial Intentions, the Staging of Two Moments of the Play and Reference to Live Performances
In the end, the play should be capable of showing the audience the negative side of marriage, an aspect that is often glossed over by society and religion in favour of a non-blemished image of marriage. The individual characters in the play must be portrayed as victims of a flawed system that prioritises the idealisation of marriage over the happiness and comfort of the individual. That overall theme will pacify the audience towards developing empathy for Karen, Sam, the Hubley’s, Jessie, and Muriel in their struggle against a faulty system. The aim of my play should be to show that the characters are human beings who have flaws and shortfalls that affect their interactions with one another (Heisel 2015, p. 107).
As such, they make numerous mistakes that have the potential to impose misery on the lives of other individuals, such as their partners in marriage. Marriage is only one of the plausible platforms that society may use to limit an individual’s freedom by imposing shackles. The characters in the three acts of the play are suffering from the fetters imposed on them through marital responsibilities, as exemplified by Sam and the Hubley’s.
I also intend to explore the play as a platform for bringing humanity to the characters in the play such that the audience can identify with their struggles and the convictions that drive their choices. I intend to go beyond the superficial portrayal of a husband mocking his wife, or a frustrated suburban wife looking for a sexual escapade or parents pressuring their daughter to get married. Each of the characters is a unique individual driven by different motives and beliefs to make decisions as portrayed in the script of the play (Heisel 2015, p. 107). As such, I would like to adopt a minimalist approach that allows the audience to be immersed in the actions and moments (Cahir 2014, p. 67).
The technical and lighting team will focus on creating the ambience for each scene as the setting – Room 719 at the Plaza Suite as represented in the name of the play – will remain static in appearance. The variations in the lighting in the room will help provide a direct relationship between the audience and the characters by predicting the mood, the tone and the objectives of each scene. The costumier should aim to establish an acceptable standard of clothing that distinguishes the Hollywood producer and the wedding entourage of the Hubley’s as well as Karen and Sam.
I intend to use the play as a tool for catalysing social conversations concerning marriages and how best to remedy the concept of marriage in a modern-day context. Marriage, as it is, is a concept born and sustained by longstanding religious and social beliefs that limit both genders to the constraints it defines. Therefore, it is probable and advisable to make changes to the social environment to accommodate individuals who are silently suffering from despicable marital arrangements, who might face the scenarios addressed in each of the three acts of the play or a host of other possible outcomes that could curtail their enjoyment of life. As such, I intend to use the play as a medium for communicating a particular message to the general population (Khattab 2015, p. 238).
That message should focus on educating the public about the challenges that married individuals face in fulfilling their marital obligations. As such, individuals who appear to act in a ridiculous manner towards their partners or other family members require outside intervention as opposed to the judgement, the characters invite upon a first encounter.
The two moments were chosen for this paper entail scenes in Act 1 and Act 3 that involve close interaction between the characters of the play. The selected scenes will depend on the directorial intentions explored in the preceding paragraph, where the director will use the atmosphere and tension to communicate the message of the play.
|ACT 1: The chosen moment for this act is the moment that Sam becomes abusive in his language as a direct response to his wife’s tendency to overlook or forget information involving dates related to their marriage.||The lighting will shift from fluorescent light to a light orange hue to indicate a shift in the tone of the conversation, from neutral to a more passive-aggressive mood as hostilities settle in.||The moment will not require any music; instead, a sombre silence will help to highlight the change in tone and mindset for Sam and the realization on Karen’s part about her husband’s shift in tone.||The movement will only be fast in the early phases as Karen attempts to cajole her husband into what she desires while he is passive about the entire situation.||The moment will be frantic to cover the argument in a limited amount of time to show the audience how quickly tempers escalate between marriage partners who are only putting up with one another.|
|ACT 3: The moment of the first interaction between Norma and Roy Hubley, when Norma informs Roy of the fact that their daughter is holed up in the bathroom.||Lighting should be neutral, with a slight variation in brightness that highlights the character that is actively speaking. The lighting will become duller, moving away from the characters to the periphery of the room.||The theme music for this scene will be a slow classical piece that captures the serenity of the wedding day ambience. The theme music will represent the calm before the storm when the parents move from patiently coaxing to anxiously threatening their daughter.||The daughter will not be visible to the rest of the audience, barring the occasional response that the script dictates for her during the ordeal. Therefore, the two remaining characters will take turns speaking to their daughter with the difference in lighting, minimizing the need for movement.||The scene will slowly develop as the seriousness of the wedding dawns on Mimsey and the parents when they realize what their daughter might be jeopardizing. At this point, the scene would be frantic as the parents attempt to coax their daughter before the culmination of the wedding.|
In terms of experience, I have witnessed several live plays that will provide a suitable foundation for my interpretation and directing of Plaza Suite by Neil Simon. The most significant plays that I can draw inspiration from include a live adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet on Broadway as well as Marriage Play by playwright Edward Albee.
The Shakespeare play presents a distinctive foray into marriage complications where a Danish prince is called home to attend his father’s burial, only to realise that his mother is now married to his uncle. The situation comes to a head as the prince rejects the marriage, calling it incestuous. The play provides a straight interpretation of the marital guidelines within Danish society, hinting as to the conduct expected in a marriage.
The overall theme in my play covers the complications resulting directly from a marriage that affect the personal relationships between those in the partnerships. The execution of different scenes in that play and the director’s portrayal of various characters could help internalise how best to capture the emotional ranges that each character in Plaza Suite experiences. In the end, numerous adaptations of Hamlet serve as examples in which the directors use different tools and methods to portray the events of the play with particular inclinations towards marriage in all contexts. Therefore, my interaction with this play will enact a key role in the final product rendered onstage to the target audience listed earlier in this essay.
The Albee play focuses on the troubled marriage of Jack and his wife Gillian, a relationship that involves verbal and physical battles as the pair explore their life as a couple as well as the concept of marriage. The play is particularly appealing to me because it depicts the same theme I will attempt to address and convey to my target audience. In this play, the action explores an abusive relationship, toxic to both parties, who are constrained by the limitations imposed on them by external factors as well as other internal factors that guide their decision-making.
The play brings into focus an unfortunate scenario between husband and wife, where the husband has every desire to divorce the wife, but mitigating circumstances intervene. The happenings in that marriage provide sufficient contextual information on how a toxic marriage can influence an individual’s happiness in the long term. I believe my experience with the production of that play and witnessing the execution by the actors provides me with sufficient knowledge to direct my play.
In hindsight, the information collected and analysed in this report reveals that the chosen play addresses a contentious social institution – marriage. The play documents different individuals who suffer from unfulfilling marriages, a state of affairs that results in questionable decision-making. The chosen play emerged during a period in the history of the United States that was experiencing calls for significant changes to the prevalent social systems to protect the victims of possible marital disputes. I intend to use this play as a medium for effecting social change while drawing inspiration from Edward Albee and William Shakespeare.
The process of directing the play involves internalising the context of the play and the presentation of my findings as listed in this report. The play serves as a justification for the claim that marriage is an oppressive tool that limits an individual’s ability to enjoy life. The play’s target audience includes all members of society who are experiencing a toxic marriage situation that keeps them shackled to the demands of society.
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