Taking a Second Look at Neil Simon
In 1991, Neil Simon won a Pulitzer Prize for Lost in Yonkers, his 20th comedy to open on Broadway since 1961 and his 14th to run there for more than a year. Not only was he the only American playwright to have been so consistently successful at the box office, but he also wrote the books for three hit musicals and had become the only screenwriter in Hollywood history to have his name above the title. And while it had long been taken for granted by most drama critics that he was nothing more than a purveyor of light entertainment, Lost in Yonkers, which the Pulitzer jurors praised as “a mature work by an enduring (and often undervalued) American playwright,” was met with general acclaim. After Lost in Yonkers, even the Paris Review deigned to interview Simon.
Alas for Simon, Lost in Yonkers was not a new beginning but an end. Never again would Simon write a full-fledged stage hit or a commercially viable screenplay, and none of his plays has been successfully revived on Broadway, save as a star vehicle (like the 2005 production of The Odd Couple with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick). The most recent attempt, a 2009 revival of Brighton Beach Memoirs, whose original 1983 production had a 1,299-performance run, closed in a week.
About the Author
Terry Teachout is COMMENTARY’s critic-at-large and the drama critic of the Wall Street Journal. Satchmo at the Waldorf, his first play, runs through November 4 at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut.