Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick and "Detroit Red"
Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick sit down at the Emerson Colonial Theatre to discuss their pre-Broadway run of Neil Simon's "Plaza Suite." Then, Jared heads to Roxbury and the South End to speak with playwright Will Power and actor Eric Berryman about the world premiere of "Detroit Red" at ArtsEmerson. Plus, a profile of Dance Theatre of Harlem.
>> JARED BOWEN: Welcome toOpen Studio,
WGBH's weekly spotlight on arts and culture
from around the region and the nation.
I'm Jared Bowen-- coming up onOpen Studio,
Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick,
the sweethearts ofPlaza Suite.
>> We'd never thought about working together at all.
>> I miss being able to go home and complain about work.
>> To me. >> To you, and now I can't...
>> I know, I'm sorry. >> We're already, that's already
happened when I get home. >> Yeah.
>> BOWEN: Then Malcolm X, when he was a Bostonian.
>> How does one reach their full potential into manhood,
into adulthood, you know?
Um, so I was always fascinated by this part of him.
>> BOWEN: And the 50th anniversary
of one of the country's most celebrated dance companies.
>> We want to make sure that, that we continue
to do what Dance Theatre of Harlem was always known for,
which is being able to do all styles.
>> BOWEN: It's all now onOpen Studio.
Actress Sarah Jessica Parker and her husband, Matthew Broderick,
are now starring inPlaza Suite
at the Emerson Colonial Theatre in a pre-Broadway run.
The play is about three different couples
checking into room 719 at New York's famed Plaza Hotel.
The first sees a 20-plus-year marriage falling apart,
another is battling sexual tension,
and the final pair is a couple figuring out
where they went wrong
when their daughter won't come out of the bathroom
on her wedding day.
Here's a scene from the 1971 comedyPlaza Suite
based on the play.
>> I want you and your $400 wedding dress
out of there in five seconds!
(pounding on door) >> Roy.
Roy, will you please lower your voice?
Everybody will hear us.
>> Well, how long do you think we can keep this a secret?
As soon as that boy down there says, "I do,"
and there's nobody standing next to him,
they're going to suspect something.
>> BOWEN: Broderick and Parker are playing all three couples.
I recently sat down with them at the Colonial
to talk about stepping onstage together
for the first time in more than 20 years.
Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick,
thank you so much for joining us.
>> Thank you. >> Thank you for having us.
>> BOWEN: I'm sure you were very deliberate
about the, the next piece
that you would be onstage together with.
How did you arrive atPlaza Suite?
>> There was nothing deliberate about it, which is, maybe,
the only reason it happened.
Um, sometimes deliberate actions lead to nothing, you know?
But we were just... Hickey, our director,
had asked, had been asked to curate some evenings
for Symphony Space in New York,
and called and said, you know,
"Would you do a play reading or something?"
And I said, "Sure," and then he rang Matthew,
and we all, uh...
We were excited,
and said, "Of course we'll do that."
And then we all started discussing plays,
and at the time, Neil Simon was,
was still quite alive, very much.
And someone suggested that we read theSuites, and...
Plaza Suite, um... charmed us all.
>> So we, we rehearsed for a half an hour or something,
and then, uh, read it out loud
and with this audience, and it was really funny.
(in character): Mimsy, open this door!
>> Oh, God.
I think I'm having a heart attack.
>> I don't hear a peep out of her.
(stammering): Is there a window in there?
Maybe she tried something crazy. >> Oh, that's right,
tell a woman who's having a heart attack
that her daughter jumped out the window.
>> The audience seemed to like it, and, uh...
>> And we enjoyed ourselves. >> We enjoyed ourselves.
And then we thought, "This is fun, it's a shame
that we don't ever do anything like, like a play like that."
>> BOWEN: Well, what does that mean?
What, what felt right about it, and what this play is?
>> Um, well, that's a much more complicated question,
but, um... >> It's WGBH.
>> Oh, yeah, I'm sorry, I forgot.
>> They're not interested in simple...
>> Yeah, I was doing Nickelodeon, sorry.
>> No one needed to be reminded
that this was a very fine Neil Simon play,
that it was funny, and that he was so clearly
at a very interesting place in his career.
You know, the first play is one of his most,
up to that point, a, a, really...
His... his sort of gateway into mature relationships.
Like, writing about a marriage in crisis.
Typically, you have a fun experience,
and you don't think, "Well, shouldn't we have more of that?"
Like, "Why wouldn't we pursue this?"
>> Like, why not actually do the play,
not just, not just read it out loud, you know?
>> We'd never thought about working together at all.
The idea of doing it would, I think, in some ways,
seem terrifying, but it wasn't scary to discuss it.
Like, it seemed... >> Yeah.
It was just a fantasy until...
You know what happens is, you start talking
about, "Yeah, that would be fun."
And John Hickey says, "Yeah, I... Oh, why can't I...
Yeah, I'd like to direct a Broadway show."
And, "Yeah, we'd like to do a show together,"
but everybody's sort of kidding a little.
And then a film effect happens, and you're sitting here
in, in Boston, at the, uh, Colonial Theatre.
>> BOWEN: What is it like to be together like this
and to do this?
>> Be nice. (all laughing)
>> It's been really good, hasn't it?
>> No, I've enjoyed it.
No, I have, I actually have.
I mean, um, there was a honeymoon period.
>> It's... >> No, I'm just kidding.
>> I, I do miss, I miss being able to go home
and complain about work. >> To me.
>> To you, and now I can't... >> I know, I'm sorry.
>> We're already, that's already happened,
>> Yeah. >> When I get home.
>> We'll find somebody that we can...
>> Yeah. >> No, I'm just kidding.
(Bowen laughs) No, it's been really nice.
It's, you know, scary, everything's always...
>> I know. >> Everything's terrifying.
However, for some reason, I'm not... so, most it...
At this point, typically, I would like to be taken
to a hospital, you know? >> Mm-hmm.
>> Or just actually put out and wake up and,
and everything went really, really well.
And the audience has really had a good time-- no.
>> Well, there's a tradition of that, you know.
>> Yes, well... >> You just get a...
>> Cocktail. >> Yeah.
>> But in all sincerity, I am...
I mean, I think we're all nervous.
But, um, thus far, it doesn't feel
like the nerves are, are, have, you know,
co-opted the experience, like, I'm so...
I am so excited to be here. >> Yeah, I am, too.
>> BOWEN: Well, to get into the material,
he... we do see these couples,
and, and there's one line in the play that just strikes me,
"Do you ever really know someone?"
I mean, that's the level of maturity
he gets to... >> Yes.
>> BOWEN: ...when you're looking at marriage
or, or these dynamics in a relationship.
So, how do you see how he explores every crevice there?
>> Yeah, he, he... you don't expect it,
'cause he was a... he's such a masterful, uh,
joke person and... but not really jokes,
he's just very... >> It's a very...
>> His comedy, even his out-and-out comedies are...
Have a very serious level to them.
EvenThe Odd Couple or any, they really do.
>> Kindly remove that spaghetti from my poker table.
>> It's not spaghetti, it's linguine.
>> Now it's garbage.
>> The, the evening of plays are about relationships.
But he, he seemed to enjoy...
Um, writing about relationships, you know, uh...
Um, romantic, institutional relationships
seemed interesting to him.
And then obviously, you know, obviously, like,
withBrighton Beach, he explored family and all that, too.
But I think he... I think he was very interested
in why things work and why they don't.
And he was young, I think, to write,
you know, that first play in particular, I think.
I think that first play is,
I, I'm in, I'm in love with the first plays.
Like, I think it's... a real portrait
of, of real distress in, in a marriage.
And I think it's so beautifully done
and, and careful and small, but, but big.
(in character): We have definitely not been very happy.
>> Yes, Karen, I've noticed that.
>> What's wrong?
We have a 12-room house in the country, two sweet children,
a maid who doesn't drink. (audience laughs)
Is there something we're missing?
>> I don't know.
>> Well, can you at least think about it?
I need hints, Sam.
>> BOWEN: Well, so here's... we get to you two onstage.
Are you bringing yourselves, your, your own stories to this?
Do you try not to do this, because it's too dangerous?
>> I mean, I think you do use your own life
in order to sort of understand what's happening in a situation,
but not directly.
If we thought we were exploring our own relationship
in front of a... an audience or...
that would be, uh, very uncomfortable, so...
>> BOWEN: Well, how do you work together as peers?
And especially, actors will go home,
back to their hotel rooms or different places,
but you, you go back together. >> We do.
>> BOWEN: Do you talk about the work?
>> I'm sorry. >> BOWEN: Do you give notes?
>> No, no, it's good.
Uh, we have, you know, you can...
We do have children.
We have a dog and a cat who can also be...
>> We have lots of distractions that,
it doesn't dominate post...
>> Like, when I worked with Nathan Lane,
and we were in Chicago,
so we ended up having to eat dinner a lot,
and so we would rehearse all day, then eat.
Like, we were together all the time, basically.
And, but we had an... not-- we didn't need to discuss it,
but we... this rule, but we basically did not talk
about, uh, the play when we left the theater
and went to go get food.
Anything but the play. >> BOWEN: Very healthy.
>> Yeah. >> BOWEN: Let me ask you,
back to Neil Simon for a moment.
He was the first person you thanked when you won your Tony.
>> And the winner is Matthew Broderick.
>> I would like to thank Neil Simon...
>> BOWEN: What kind of relationship did you have?
>> We were... liked each other a lot.
But... or I guess I shouldn't speak for him, uh...
But he was a... you know, he was a quiet guy,
and he was the writer, and I was the actor.
And he was sort of formal that way, you know?
But he wrote me beautiful letters
and, um... uh...
We were probably close in an odd way,
'cause I started out playing, I was playing him, really, him.
So, we, we were close,
but, but I wouldn't say we, like, hung out together.
>> BOWEN: I mean, you were so young...
>> Yeah. >> BOWEN: ...to, to be
with that kind of figure.
What was that like? >> It was insane.
When I auditioned for Brighton Beach, I was 19.
And I went on, and there was these glasses
out in the audience, you know, and the bald head.
And, uh, I had maybe seen a few pictures.
And I was, like, "I think that's Neil Simon," you know?
And, uh, I heard him laugh a couple of times,
which I was just over the moon about.
And, um... yeah.
I... I've said it before... >> You have to tell the story
of, of, um... you know...
the moment when they revealed... >> Oh, yeah.
>> You know, quietly,
because you weren't really meant to know,
but that they were, like...
this and this. >> Oh.
>> 'Cause it's such an incredible...
>> I don't want to take up all of your time.
>> No, no, no, no, no, it's such a great story.
>> So I read for him several times,
then a director came.
He said, "Oh, and we also have,
"we're doing a film soon before the play.
Take a look at that, read that out loud."
And I read, and I had to leave, and they said,
"Well, come back and read the..."
And I read, all the scenes of the movie
I read with the director, and the...
And then I went back up and read again for the play
with the guy who was playing my brother.
Like, "Okay, thank you."
And as I was walking off, the casting director said,
"Well, you had a good day."
And I said, "What, why, did I get that movie?
I had a feeling they, like, you know?"
And she said, "You got both."
So I went from...
I just suddenly had a... my first movie
and a Broadway, in one instant. >> Both Neil Simon.
>> Both Neil. >> It wasMax Dugan Returns.
>> What are you eating? >> Doughnut.
>> For breakfast? >> I put peanut butter on it.
>> Certainly hard to imagine anyone who has played a...
>> In my... >> Important, critical,
sentimental, professional... >> Yeah.
>> ...role in your... >> Absolutely.
>> ...professional life, it's... >> And I'm so, so,
it's so thrilling after all these years
to be able to do it again,
and I adore him, is the truth.
I adore his writing, and, uh...
>> BOWEN: Do you think you can understand him
more than perhaps any, any other writer?
>> I just love him, you know?
I guess... I don't know,
I wouldn't compare him to others.
I just, uh... I...
That sort of humor, whether it wasThe Honeymooners
or, uh, or actually Neil Simon,
or other people who came at the same... or Mel Brooks,
I really like it.
And I particularly like Neil.
And so I'm very honored and, and flattered
to, uh, have another, you know, chance with him.
And you are, too, right?
I mean, you... Do you feel that way, too?
>> I think I saw every Neil Simon play
that was ever produced on Broadway,
whether it was standing room
or way, way, way, way up in the mezzanine
or whatever we could afford,
Um, so I love him as an audience.
>> BOWEN: Let me back up and ask just about your time here, too.
You were an 11-year-old, in this theater, doingThe Innocents.
But you remember this theater, you, this was a pivotal time.
>> I remember it very well, yeah.
Because it was, um...
It was the first theater I'd been in
outside of Cincinnati, Ohio.
I mean, I auditioned in New York.
My brother and I loved this theater so much.
Like, we would just wander around
and be in places we shouldn't be,
and find, you know, hallways and under seats,
and, and the theater was not in the shape that it is in now.
But we thought it was magnificent and grand.
And I'm so happy to be here. >> BOWEN: Well, thank you
for being with us here at the Colonial Theatre.
>> Thank you. >> BOWEN: We're so grateful
to spend this time with you. >> Thank you.
>> Thank you for your time, it was so nice to meet you.
>> BOWEN: Next, history tends to remember Malcolm X
as the civil-rights activist who emerged from New York.
But the truth is, he spent many of his formative years
here in Boston as a young man.
A new play presented by ArtsEmerson
documents that time when, before he was Malcolm X,
he was Detroit Red.
The lasting image of Malcolm X
is of an undaunted civil-rights activist.
>> You're going to have a racial explosion.
And a racial explosion is more dangerous
than an atomic explosion.
It's going to explode because black people are dissatisfied.
>> BOWEN: Here, in 1963, two years before his assassination,
he was the fully formed firebrand.
But he wasn't, as the new play Detroit Red reminds us,
born that way.
>> I'm late three months on the bills.
And if Ella hears you, she's going to jam me up
for the money I don't have.
>> How does one reach their full potential
into manhood, into adulthood, you know?
Um, so I was always fascinated by this part of him.
>> BOWEN: Will Power is the playwright ofDetroit Red,
a drama now having its world premiere at ArtsEmerson.
>> He was from Michigan.
And they eventually called him Detroit Red,
but that's because Lansing Red
didn't sound as, as good, you know what I mean?
So, he was from East Lansing,
which at that point was pretty, like, rural.
>> BOWEN: Malcolm X, or Malcolm Little, as he was known then,
referred to himself as a hick when he came to Boston in 1940
to live with his half-sister Ella.
He was 16 and would spend 12 years in the city,
nearly a third of his short life.
>> When he first got to Boston,
rather than getting a job immediately,
his sister Ella-- which was his older sister,
but was kind of a matriarchal figure for him, um--
she was, like, "Go explore the city.
Don't get a job yet, go explore."
And so he got on the bus, got on the train,
and before he even knew anyone, he just went all around the city
and got exposed to these places.
>> Smart boy.
You read, don't you? >> Yes, sir.
Working on a few things now, never far from my books.
>> BOWEN: How much differently did you think about him
when you actually came to Boston
and started working on the piece?
>> I got, being in Boston gave me just a, just a closer view
of who he was during that time, you know?
Not just he was and what he did, but also the places.
>> BOWEN: We met Power
at Darryl's restaurant in Roxbury--
in the same neighborhood Malcolm X once roamed.
It's here where Power himself walked the streets
over the last two years,
talking to longtime Bostonians
to get a feel for who Malcolm X was in his youth.
>> I talked to a couple of old, old guys
that knew him in the '40s during this time,
I mean, that was crazy.
And that's real interesting because, you know,
people who know... when you know someone,
but you know them before they're, like,
an icon, a celebrity, it's not the same thing.
These guys, like, "Yeah, I knew Malcolm,
he was around talking, messing," you know.
It's not the same, like, "Oh!", reverence,
or something like that, which is real gold for me as a writer.
>> BOWEN: Well, does it get to a point where you think
that you can think like him, that you can see like him?
>> Yeah, for me, at least, as a writer.
You tap into his energy,
you know, that's emanating off the page
in the books, the speeches,
the interviews, what you hear.
>> That's like asking the fox to protect you from the wolf.
>> And then I try to tap into his rhythm patterns and speech.
>> Hey, Shorty, can you get me a gun?
>> What for? >> Can you get me one?
>> BOWEN: In Boston, Malcolm X replaced menial jobs
with work in crime rings,
peddling cocaine and robbing homes--
a spree that ultimately landed him
in the Massachusetts prison system.
>> If we as audiences see Malcolm X, or JFK,
or Martin Luther King, or Susan B. Anthony,
and they're, like, these perfect figures,
then we, adults and young people, are going to be, like,
"Well, that's great, but I can never be that,
because I have doubts," you know?
"I have failures."
>> What the play is showing
is that he doesn't always want to do what he's doing.
He's, he's constantly working
for something greater and bigger.
>> BOWEN: Actor Eric Berryman plays Malcolm X.
We met him in front of the home Detroit Red shared
with his sister Ella.
>> So, this is, this is my first time walking around here.
>> BOWEN: Like Power, Berryman has gone deep down
the Malcolm X rabbit hole--
studying film, photographs, and writings,
determining who he was before he leveraged prison resources
to reinvent himself
as one of the country's most galvanizing voices.
Is it any more daunting for you
to be playing a real-life person?
>> No, it's more exciting to me.
Because that's all one can, I think, hope to do,
when you're playing someone who, who really lived,
is try to attain a part of their essence.
(in character): And when Father was murdered,
we ate dandelion roots and corn mush
and anything we could find.
>> BOWEN: He has taken one solid note, though--
from a Boston woman who knew Malcolm X in his youth
and took exception to the poor posture
Berryman thought a young, less confident Malcolm might have.
>> She said, "Malcolm never slouched."
And I... she said, "Yeah," she says,
"Malcolm was always, had, always had a pride
and never slouched and, you know, he was always upright."
So, I slouch a little less now. >> BOWEN: Which is the key
to understanding the physical and emotional bearing
of a man made for monumentality.
From Pilgrims to professors,
it's time now for Arts This Week.
80 years ago Monday,
Glenn Miller had a number-one hit with this song.
("In the Mood" playing)
So, if you're in the mood,
raise a toast to the Big Band Man.
Tuesday, see a series of self-portraits
by South African artist Zanele Muholi
at the Cooper Gallery in Harvard Square.
It's a tantalizing twist on tropes.
Nina Simone: Four Women opens
at Merrimack Repertory Theatre Wednesday.
It's based on Simone's song about the four girls killed
in a 1963 Alabama church bombing.
Rock it like a Puritan Thursday.
The early music group Seven Times Salt
presents music of the peripatetic Pilgrims
at the New England Historic Genealogical Society.
See a show of Wellesley College faculty artists
at the Davis Museum Friday.
Take note, it happens just once every five years.
Saturday, A Far Cry trots out the V.I.Ps.
for Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings.
The stars are some of the finest instruments ever crafted,
including by Stradivari.
The Dance Theatre of Harlem,
one of the country's most innovative dance ensembles,
is in the midst of celebrating its 50th anniversary.
As it tours the country through the spring,
the dance company presents performances
that acknowledge its past and look to the future.
(percussive music playing)
>> My name is Donald Williams,
I'm a former principal dancer with Dance Theatre of Harlem.
As part of its 50th anniversary,
has brought back Geoffrey Holder'sDougla,
which is one of the signature pieces
of Dance Theatre of Harlem from way back.
It was originally choreographed in 1974...
(percussive music playing)
...as a signature piece,
but then, in the '90s, he did a revamp,
and he used me as the central character,
the principal dancer,
to update it and make it more relevant for the future.
And now it's a timeless piece.
See what I'm saying?
Like that much, that much stuff.
>> Yeah. >> So that's where you can go.
In this particular dance,
a lot of the movements are very simple.
They're, they'll just be arms, heads.
And then the most important part of this will be the eyes
when you turn your head to the front,
and, and the, the expression that you give,
what you're saying with your face as you make the movement,
what you could bring to the steps.
You're bringing your own flavor, your own extra feeling to it,
what you're saying in your eyes, in your face,
and in your body, as well.
That's something that you can't really pass on through a video.
You have to pass that on, you know, from person to person.
And so now I'm really proud to be able to pass this legacy on.
(classical ensemble piece playing)
Because the company's smaller now,
we have to have supplements,
and we use local dancers from the different places
that we go to perform the, this particular ballet.
Here, we're going to be using Peter London Ballet Company.
What I came here to do first is to begin to teach them
before the company comes, so that they know the work,
and then the company comes, and then we put it together,
and the magic happens.
I really appreciate the hard work that they've done.
(percussive music playing, dancers chanting)
I spent a long career at Dance Theatre of Harlem.
I was a principal dancer there for 27 years.
What Dance Theatre of Harlem was about
was trying to give opportunities to dancers of color
to perform in classical ballet.
That was the original thing, because there was a thought
that dancers of color couldn't do classical ballet.
Before, we were trying to prove
that dancers of color could do classical ballet.
Now that we know that that's a fact and we can do it,
now we're trying to do everything.
We want to make sure that, that we continue to do
what Dance Theatre of Harlem was always known for,
which is being able to do all styles
and do them all well, and also provide opportunities
for dancers of color to do classical ballet,
to do contemporary.
It's all about access, opportunity, and excellence.
Just our presence makes it possible
for students who are coming up to see,
"I can become a ballet dancer if I want to."
If they see people who are actually achieving it,
then they can be it.
>> BOWEN: And that is all for this edition ofOpen Studio.
Next week, it's a trip to the Dollyverse
as we sit down with Dolly Parton about a life of songwriting.
>> I just live with rhymes in my head.
And music, everything I hear,
even a rhythm of somebody walking around
clicking on... you know, in the kitchen, cleaning dishes,
I always got to pick up on some sort of a rhythm.
>> BOWEN: Plus, Elsa Dorfman gives us a snapshot of life
with her giant Polaroid camera.
Until then, I'm Jared Bowen.
Thanks for joining us.
And as always, you can visit us online at wgbh.org/OpenStudio.
And you can follow us on Instagram and Twitter,
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