“When it’s 100 degrees in New York, it is 72 in Los Angeles. When it is 30 degrees in New York, it is 72 in Los Angeles. However, there are six million interesting people in New York and 72 in Los Angeles.”
Comedy is hard
Neil Simon 1927-2918
With over thirty plays and almost the same amount of screenplays, Neil Simon has deservedly secured his rightful place among the best of American playwrights. Few playwrights of the Twentieth Century can claim as many outright hits as he had, and I can’t think of any playwright other than Simon who, at one time, had four plays on Broadway at the same time. He has won many Tonys, Golden Globes, even Emmies for his work on YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS from the 1950s when other staff writers included Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner. And, Simon was the first American playwright to have a Broadway theatre named after him. I presume he was so honored because of his artistic contributions to the Broadway scene, and because of the millions of dollars his hit after hit after hit brought to the scene as well.
While many of his screenplays are adaptations of his Broadway hits, some, like GOODBYE GIRL, MURDER BY DEATH, and THE OUT-OF-TOWNERS were not. For the most part, the non-adaptations were more successful, with the exception of THE ODD COUPLE, which was not only a critical and box office success as a play and a movie, it also inspired an extremely popular TV show that ran for many years.
Comedy does not always get the respect it deserves. How many comedies have won Best Picture at the Academy Awards? Living in an artsy, sophisticated community often means that the ONLY comedy we will be treated to in any season will be either Shakespeare or Moliere. HEY! I love those guys, but how about a comedy from the Twentieth or the Twenty-first century? Not dark humor, but funny.
My guess is, places like the Yale Rep feel that these sort of comedies are not worthy of their attention. Since the bulk of Simon’s hits were written in the sixties or seventies, many of them, if they were to be produced today, would be period pieces. However, his series of auto-biographically inspired nostalgia pieces, BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS, BILOXI BLUES, and BROADWAY BOUND, take place in the thirties, forties, and fifties. No need for re-writes there. So why the reluctance do a Simon play in the twenty-first century?
It may have something to do with his broad public appeal. In other words, they are too well liked. The tempo of his dialogue and the very New York-ness of his humor, while part of what made him so popular, may now seem to be very “old school.” (Old School is an expression I am growing to hate. As if old pieces have no relevancy) Is Neil Simon too funny to be taken seriously in this century?
There is a scene from the 1998 movie, MY ONE TRUE THING with Merly Streep, William Hurt and Rene Zellwegger, where Streep and her adult children are reading aloud from an Erma Bombeck book. William Hurt, who plays an English Lit professor and a snotty, mildly successful novelist who is in a slump, sees them gathered in laughter, and he asks them what they are reading. When they tell him it is Erma Bombeck, who, while she never won a Pulitzer (like Simon) was enormously popular and very funny, Hurt gives a look as though they had just told them they had been eating cockroaches. He is horrified. My friend Doug and I were talking just the other day about how it is kind of embarrassing to like RIVERDANCE (which we saw together and loved.) Should we feel embarrassed because we enjoy something that has such mass appeal? Should we shelve Simon’s plays for a generation or two until he becomes retro and therefore cool again?
Simon’s humor is never vicious. It is never cheap. It is never gratuitous. He KNEW how to do funny. BUT he also knew how to write a hell of a good play.
“We must always dance as if it may be our last dance.”
Although not very well-known in the US, Kemp was a doyen in mime, dance, and choreography in Britain. He was a mentor and dancing teacher to David Bowie and Kate Bush. They both credit him with enriching their artistic lives and inspiring them to brave and big performances, and teaching them how to dance. (He and Bowie were also lovers for a while)
While he was the creative force behind the Lindsay Kemp Company, he also was known for directing avant garde productions. His last time was in 2016 in Livorno, Italy where he directed and designed everything, including the lighting for a production of The Magic Flute.
Kemp was playing women in dresses in theatre pieces before Lady Bracknell became a “mans role.” He had his own company of performers and found audiences in Britain and Europe. I saw him perform in Sydney with the Lindsay Kemp Company in 1982, where he had a huge following. In fact, my friend Avril and I lost a flatmate when she auditioned for Kemp in Sydney and was hired.
Members of the Lindsay Kemp Company adored him. You can see the tributes on his website:
Trying to describe what he did is impossible. So, I will just show: