Monday, October 09, 2006

A Great Game Of Simon Says

A Great Game Of Simon Says

In celebrating its first season in its new home, Minneapolis' Guthrie Theater is conducting an engaging series of conversations with renowned playwrights, kicking off with the prolific Neil Simon yesterday.

Simon's award-winning Lost In Yonkers is currently performing at the Guthrie. During yesterday's "Conversation with Neil Simon," the great playwright told Guthrie Artistic Director Joe Dowling that he had enjoyed a performance on Saturday and praised the ensemble.

Simon said that he still uses a good old-fashioned typewriter to bring his stories to life after writing first drafts longhand. Much of what he writes is based in part on his own experiences or of those he knows (The Odd Couple was based in part on his brother and his roommate). He had high praise for venerable director Mike Nichols, saying he himself never had any desire to direct. And while he still sees virtually every show that plays on Broadway, today's writers seem to write from a different place ("a place of anger") than what he has. But the 79 year old writer also revealed that he's busy working on a new script for a play called, "Where's My Papa," based on a sojourn to Long Island during his youth when he was taken to watch for his own father coming out of a home where he had supposedly been having a tryst.

The packed house was highly appreciative of every nugget Simon offered. After all, he is arguably America's greatest living playwright with an amazing career spanning more than fifty years, starting in the early 50s with television's "Your Show Of Shows."

Simon's Broadway entrée came 51 years ago with a musical revue show called Catch A Star for which he and his brother Danny wrote the sketches. After writing a sketch called "Madame Interpreter" for New Faces Of 1956, it was another five years before Simon struck real gold on the Great White Way. But what a gilded treat it was in Come Blow Your Horn, which played 677 performances at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.

Since 1961, Simon has written 24 more Broadway plays along with the libretto for five musicals. Along the way, he has earned 17 Tony nominations, winning 3 times -- for The Odd Couple (1965), Biloxi Blues (1985) and Lost In Yonkers (1991), for which he also won the Pulitzer Prize.

This coming Sunday, Simon's enormous contributions to the American conversation will earn him the ninth annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the Kennedy Center. It will mark the second time for the estimable playwright to be honored there -- he also was awarded the Kennedy Center Honors in 1995. In announcing Simon's selection, Kennedy Center Chairman Steven A. Schwarzman said, "Neil Simon, like Mark Twain, has a unique way of exposing the American spirit by drawing on experiences in his own life and creating insightful and touching portraits of the world around him."

With an opportunity to celebrate the gift of word that Simon has given American audiences, I was thrilled to be in his presence yesterday. Congratulations on your latest, well-deserved honor, Mr. Simon!

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for Lost In Yonkers tickets.
Click here for Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize tickets.
Related Stories:
Lost In Yonkers (The SOB Review) - Wurtele Thrust Stage, Guthrie, Minneapolis, MN (October 5, 2006)
Guthrie's Lost In Yonkers Opens Tonight (September 29, 2006)

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At 12 October, 2006, Anonymous Gene J said...

This was a fun hour of Neil Simon in a conversation with Joe Dowling. His wit is still sharp and very funny and completely without vitriol.
At this presentation Mr. Simon also made note that "Barefoot in the Park" was a recollection of his first years of marriage to his late wife Joan. And you could sense how strong that love was.
When asked if he preferred theater or film he stated theater. His explanation was in film the director is always looking for the right shot and not the performance. In theater the director is working with the playwright to get the performance as he/she had in mind when written.
Mr. Simon, when asked why he wrote and if so was it for money he deftly replied that "he wrote because he loved to write." He also noted he has no idea how much money he has and that is not an overwhelming factor in his life. He went on to say that he dressed the same way everyday (preppy casual) and was not interested in what I might call the glitz and glamour of the business.
Unfortunately Mr. Dowling was not as prepared as I expected him to be.
Sadly when Mr. Simon wasn't able to recall the genesis of "Come Blow Your Horn" Dowling sat there, looking embarassed and very much like a bump on a log, unable to prompt Mr. Simon. Had Mr. Dowling had his staff prepare a packet of play data and such he could have made the afternoon more enlightening. I am sure that the audience missed much due to this lacking.

At 12 October, 2006, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 12 October, 2006, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Thanks for the great comments, Gene, especially for adding some key points I left out.

Like you, I was struck by his affection for his first wife, Joan. I was also pleased by his comments expressing a preference for theatre over movies. There really is nothing quite like a live performance, is there?


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