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Sarah Jessica Parker and Mathew Broderick on reviving Neil Simon's hit 'Plaza Suite'

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

One of Hollywood's most beloved couples is currently starring on Broadway together in a three-part meditation on marriage.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SARAH JESSICA PARKER: (As Karen) Today is December 14, isn't it?

MATTHEW BRODERICK: (As Sam) Yes.

PARKER: (As Karen) So? We're married 24 years today.

BRODERICK: (As Sam) Are you serious?

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: That's Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick in Neil Simon's "Plaza Suite," first staged in 1968. It ran for a few weeks in Boston, but the very day it was supposed to open on Broadway in 2020, the pandemic shut everything down. Now Broadway is back, and their play officially opens tonight. I asked them why, of all the projects, of all the plays that they could have done together, why this one was the right fit.

PARKER: We hadn't been looking to work together, not at all - like, right, Matthew?

BRODERICK: Yeah. I just remember we enjoyed reading it, and the audience seemed to enjoy it. They were very old people. But they - and...

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Well, it's sort of an old play.

BRODERICK: Yes. And I'm old.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

PARKER: Go back where you don't call the audience old.

(LAUGHTER)

BRODERICK: Well, I mean that in a nice way. I'm elderly. My brothers and sisters of white hair were sitting there, laughing with me.

PARKER: Not only those.

MARTIN: As you can hear, the two of them have such an easy way with each other, as you'd expect from a couple who've been together roughly 30 years, which makes them perfect for this play. It's about three different couples, each at different stages of their relationships, but all the stories take place in the same hotel suite. Some aspects feel universal; others, like the gender roles, feel of another time. In the first act, Sarah Jessica plays a middle-aged woman named Karen, who has planned this romantic night at the Plaza Hotel with her husband, Sam. Then she finds out he's been having an affair, and she gets desperate.

PARKER: She says, I understand it, Sam. It's not your fault.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PARKER: (As Karen) But maybe I can live with it until it's over. What else can I do? I'm attached to you.

I think that is devastating.

BRODERICK: Right.

PARKER: She says, well, what is it you want, Sam? And he says, I just want to do it all over again. Heart-rending - because it's not his fault (laughter). You know what I mean?

MARTIN: Well, it is, and it isn't. I sort of wanted to punch him in the face in that moment.

PARKER: Right?

BRODERICK: (Laughter).

PARKER: You know, it's 1968, so we are really talking about generational sexual politics - women's and men's roles, who they think they are. They're on the cusp of the women's movement. She's been exposed to these conversations. Like, they're on the fringe, right? And she thinks she's going to escape it and be modern and love her husband in traditional, what would be considered old-fashioned ways.

MARTIN: The second act is about a couple on the verge of an affair, and it's about power and mutual exploitation in romantic love. Then the last act is the lightest of the three. It's about a married couple trying to help their daughter get over cold feet on her wedding day. But Parker and Broderick's characters are bickering the entire time.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRODERICK: (As Roy) Where's Mimsey?

PARKER: (As Norma) Promise you're not going to blame me?

BRODERICK: (As Roy) Blame you for what? What did you do?

PARKER: (As Norma) I didn't do anything, but I don't want to get blamed for it.

MARTIN: Was Neil Simon a fan of marriage?

BRODERICK: Well, he got married many times, so he must have been.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: An eternal optimist.

BRODERICK: Yeah. I mean, he had a hard time with it, I guess. But Neil Simon - I love Neil Simon partly because he can be very funny and also very serious in a way. And I think that what the daughter is afraid of is becoming them and the parents desperately trying to get the kid to take this step, and she's saying, but I don't want to be like you.

MARTIN: It's not lost on the audience that the two people playing these characters and these different portraits of marriage over time are you two, who have been married a long time. So in Sam, the character out of the first act, I walked away thinking that he felt marriage had contracted his life, had limited him in some way, at least in that moment. And I am betting marriage has not contracted your life, or you wouldn't have stuck with it. So if you wouldn't mind sharing the ways in which each of you feel that marriage has expanded your life.

PARKER: I will in very vague terms because I love not talking about our marriage, actually. It's the - one of the few things that we have managed to sort of be somewhat - what's the word, Matty (ph)?

BRODERICK: Private?

PARKER: Private but not withholding.

BRODERICK: Yeah.

PARKER: Like, I will give you a general but real answer, which is that it has not contracted my life. Had I not met this particular man, married him, shared this life, found our way to creating a family, these wouldn't be the memories we share, and so I can't imagine seeing anything contracting. I only see growth. Matty, what do you think?

BRODERICK: Everything is contracting in a way as you...

PARKER: Get older.

BRODERICK: ...You know, get middle-aged. And I love my children more than anything in the world - and my wife. But I also - you know, everybody who has children knows you no longer can get on a plane and say, I'm going to go live in Paris for a year, you know? It's a limiter. It's a growth and a limiter. It's both.

PARKER: And it's not to suggest that people that find its limitations unbearable don't have every right to pursue a different life. Joy and satisfaction and contentment can be found in so many ways. And I think that's the question that the first two plays are asking, is where do I find mine, and how do I find mine, and can we find it together, or am I alone?

MARTIN: When I saw the play, at the end, the curtain call, Sarah Jessica, you went down with the curtain. And I don't know if this is something you do all the time.

PARKER: (Laughter).

MARTIN: Your little face just kept going as the curtain was descending.

(LAUGHTER)

BRODERICK: She doesn't want to leave.

MARTIN: Right. Right. You are left with this idea that you do have a connection to the work and that you did share something with the people in the audience and that you did enjoy it.

PARKER: I hope that's the feeling. I mean, I think the reason I do that is that, you know, we can't thank everybody for being there personally. But they waited two years. A lot of people held on to those tickets. Most people did not ask for their money back. They said, no, we'll wait. And so I stayed with them as long as I can, simply to try to convey our gratitude. It's not Matthew's style to go crouch with his face at the - but he feels it, too. So...

BRODERICK: I can't bend my knees that - more...

(LAUGHTER)

PARKER: Yeah, no. It's like, seven knee surgeries doesn't allow that. But it's simply my way of trying to say thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Oh, it was so lovely to talk with both of you, Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick. They star in the new Broadway play "Plaza Suite." Thanks to both of you.

PARKER: Thank you.

BRODERICK: Thank you.

PARKER: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.