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Neil Simon Dead At 91


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I read that Neil Simon got a lot of criticism for some of his earliest plays because they were seen as 'lightweight' and a series of one-liners packed into a play, during a time when the standard for straight theater (non-musical) was to have gravitas or inspire catharsis.  Critics skewered him but his 'pop culture' appeal was obvious when you look at his legacy.

Yes, the masses enjoyed Simon's work, which readily lent itself to screen adaptations on film and television.

Paddy Chayefsky, to a certain extent was already ahead of Simon in the sense that he was already adapting his own work but as a playwright, Chayefsky still regarded theater as being on a higher plane and refused to even try to appeal to a wide audience, if you didn't like or understand Chayefsky's plays, well, that was your lack understand, the thinking went (especially where Chayefsky was concerned). 

But for Simon, his writing did purposely appeal to the masses and he was very open to adapting it to other media, and it didn't take a lot of calculation to figure that he was one of the few dramatic writers who could actually make a living solely from his written work as a result--which was likely because his work was so pop-culture ready.


For better or worse, Simon's work did help to usher in a new era where plays were expected to appeal to box office and to have wide appeal, not just to a specific audience of theater connoisseurs and aficionados. 

I for one, enjoyed his work and I think it freed dramatic writers like myself to embrace the comedic along with the dramatic. 

Most dramatic writers are still self-conscious about being careful to avoid writing a serious of one-liners but many theater/dramatic writing programs don't discourage their students from writing work that could be considered 'lighter fare', realizing that theater is no longer seen as being solely from the Greek tradition of catharsis but the entertainment factor (and yes, box office) has become important as well. 

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Thanks, DD, for the editorial!  Like Green, I prefer Neil Simon's early plays.  Not that the "Brighton Beach" trilogy or "Lost in Yonkers" aren't any good.  They are VERY good, in fact.  But his earlier stuff seems to capture better a sense of what it was like to be Jewish and living in New York at a certain time in the city's history.  His plays from that period are one of the many reasons why I wanted to live there when I was a lad.

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