Thursday, June 5, 2014

Plaza Suite - Meet cast member Shelagh Roberts

Tell me a little bit about your character.
 My character is Muriel Tate, a “typical” suburban housewife in 1968, who seems prim and proper, but we learn a lot about her as we peel off the layers and delve into the scene.  She has been following Jesse’s career in Hollywood, “very closely, if you please,” and is finally going to see him after 17 years.  We find out that she is very unhappy in her marriage, she doesn’t like to be one-upped, she consumes vodka stingers with shocking regularity, and she is looking for an escape.  Muriel is a real piece of work.

What were some of the challenges for you in working on this piece? 
Finding the truth in the character is always the challenge.  The lines are just funny because Neil Simon is a funny writer, but how can we bring some life and honesty to the scene? Muriel is more than some groupie - she has a relationship with Jesse that for different reasons, they are both interested in renewing.  Besides - he called her! Watching Muriel fawn over Jesse for a half hour would be a very boring scene.  Lucky for us, Neil Simon has ensured that Muriel and Jesse challenge each other and he gives us many shifts in the relationship throughout the scene, as well as transition points where the characters reveal some of who they really are.  Jesse doesn’t always have the upper hand.  As I see it, the scene is full of surprises.

The other big challenge is the fact that it is a continuous scene without interruption, so all of the pacing, energy and transition points come from the actors.  At no point can you say, “Oh, this is the part where the butler enters and bring the tray,” and readjust yourself.  Richard and I are locked in a pretty intense game of cat and mouse for a half hour, and it’s up to us to keep it moving and vary the levels so there is movement and energy in the scene.  It’s like one long acting class scene every time we go up there!  We have a lot of fun keeping the other one guessing.

What do you hope audiences will take away from this play?  
First of all, I hope people are going to crack up.  Other than that, the main takeaway for me is that all of these characters are very relevant and relatable today. People like to think we have evolved to some master modern sensibility where there is perfect equality or respect in relationships, and I just don’t think it’s true.  Besides, that wouldn’t help an actor much!  To use a literary analogy, there is always the theme in romantic relationships of victim and executioner, and in this play, those roles reverse quite a bit.  That’s what keeps it fresh.

Plaza Suite will be playing at LTA June 14 - July 5.  Tickets can be purchased online at

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