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The Collected Plays, Vol. 4 Since , a Broadway season without a Neil Simon play has been a rare one For than thirty years, Simon s wry and astute observations on life, love, and the human condition have been making audiences laugh uproariously even as his beautifully realized characters touch their hearts These five plays, including the Pulitzer and Tony award winning Lost in Yonkers, show Simon at the pinnacle of his extraordinary career Rumors Lost in Yonkers Jake s Women Laughter on the rd Floor London SuiteIncluding the author s introduction How to Stop Writing and Other Impossibilities Now, I ve had volumes 1 3 of The Collected Plays of Neil Simon on my bookshelf for quite some time, and as their thin acidic leaves turn yellow and brittle, it finally dawned on me that I d better take them down to determine once and for all whether they were there to flesh out my good intentions pile of never read doorstops, essentially staking out space solely for thespian street cred or if they actually merited their place as cherished read reads for sharing with my future self and other re Now, I ve had volumes 1 3 of The Collected Plays of Neil Simon on my bookshelf for quite some time, and as their thin acidic leaves turn yellow and brittle, it finally dawned on me that I d better take them down to determine once and for all whether they were there to flesh out my good intentions pile of never read doorstops, essentially staking out space solely for thespian street cred or if they actually merited their place as cherished read reads for sharing with my future self and other return visitors to my home library Sure, it took Simon s memoir Rewrites to goad me into pulling these down, but imagine my chagrin and delight to discover that I m in fact already familiar with the contents of many of these plays Well, there s age for you.I was planning to read them in order, but a funny thing happened when I got to Simon s introduction to Volume 3 it was all about the plays in this volume all save the last So that led me to do a bit of digging and when I discovered the library had this one, well, naturally I had to pursue my curiosity Volume 4 is a puzzling anthology in contrast to its predecessors, in that it publishes a mere five plays as opposed to seven or eight It s not clear why, since at the time of publication both the 1993 Broadway musical version of The Goodbye Girl adapted by Simon from his original screenplay as well as 1997 s Proposals were available for inclusion Perhaps Simon Schuster was saving these for a future collection and I note that anyone has yet to collect his screenplays At any rate, as of this review, the internets tell me that Simon has since had at least three other plays produced 2000 s Dinner Party, 2001 s 45 Seconds from Broadway, and 2003 s Rose s Dilemma Oh, and Neil also pumped out something in 2004 called Oscar and Felix A New Look at the Odd Couple, which appears to be just an updating of his original script withcontemporary references If true, this would mark the fourth time he s personally re veneered his biggest hit All in all, given the availability of another 5 6 previously uncollected plays, the fact that an unprecedented six years have passed since the last new Simon production, and what with the valedictory of Simon s being awarded the Mark Twain prize in 2006, hasn t the time come for someone to publish a Volume 5 of his Collected Works All this remains worth noting for those who might wish to approach these books as definitive statements on the order and evolution of the author s output That s a logic that can only be deliberately imposed by the reader the books themselves won t help with this Personally, I think it s best to take these in as strikes your fancy there doesn t seem to be any logical intent to the way they ve been assembled even within each volume My rating of each of these tomes reflects an average of my ratings for the plays they contain, which were collectedor less in the chronological order of their writing and appearance on the stage But enough dawdling On with the shows Rumors 4 stars the first act lives up to the play s billing for classic, by the book farce comedy of errors and confusion, based on a hysterically escalating series of misunderstandings Doors slam, people make alternate entrances, run up and down the stairs, drop behind couches, etc It s the 10th wedding anniversary dinner party of a wealthy, powerful couple, and the well to do guests are desperate to avoid scandal of an incapacitated host shot through the earlobe and missing hostess With all this plot, the characters are reduced to mere caricatures of myopia, meanness, martyrdom, and manipulation, but that s all part of the fun The pacing slows down a bit in Act II and it s patently obvious from the git go that the play s set up is beside the point, but excepting the cheap Polish joke at p 32 COOKIE I just don t understand why we re all wearing our best clothes to cook a dinner CLAIRE That s not your best clothes It s a fifty year old Polish dress COOKIE A sixty year old Russian dress it s otherwise pretty hard to beat this show as an example of Simon s tour de force mastery of comedy writing craft.Lost in Yonkers 3 stars it s a good play, but not a great one see my earlier comments regarding The Gingerbread Lady in my Vol 2 review , and I can t for the life of me figure out why this presumably autobiographical slice of 1940 s hardship earned Neil Simon the Pulitzer Prize A pair of adolescent boys are left to contend with their emotionally crippled, authoritarian German Jewish grandmother for 10 months while their father travels the country selling scrap metal to pay off loan shark debt incurred to pay the medical expenses of their dead mother, so you know the predicament is supposed to be sympathetic In coping with being wards of a woman who is all tough and no love, the kids end up as a window catalyst for the de infantilization of their autistic Aunt Bella, but absent any clear resolution for its characters the kids are there for 10 months, and that s it the play s ending feels a bit unsatisfying.Jake s Women 3 stars Jake is a writer struggling to work out his emotional detachment issues with his second wife from whom he has become estranged and legally separated a decade after the death of his first wife Some Freudian parental angst is mixed in, too, though this is easily the weakest aspect of the play Does any of this plot sound familiar Yes, here s another good, pointedly autobiographical play psychodrama, really, as much of the action takes place in the protagonist s mind And once again Simon serves up an unsatisfying ending, although here the problem is not lack of a clear catharsis, but an overly hasty one As in Gingerbread Lady, the ending fails because of its apparent insincerity The protagonist is told he needs to demonstrate a psychological breakthrough, so he simply summons it up For how long will this last And why should we care Which brings us to Laughter on the 23rd Floor 2 stars Neil Simon tells us in his intro to Vol 3 which is oddly devoted to the works presented in this volume, a primary reason I chose to read them out of order that he worried Jake s Women was self indulgent and so, after several rewrites and tryout stagings, eventually shelved it Unlike Jake s Women, Laughter was fairly successful, but it is farself indulgent in that it is simply a nostalgia piece the writers and host of Your Show of Shows bid adieu to their place on broadcast television Preferring to freeze fond friendships in time than tell a tale, Simon eschews story in favor of remembered truth There could have been conflict will Max Prince leave the show Will Ira Stone or anyone have to be fired Will Lucas Simon s stand in for himself make the show s exceptional cut for comedy writers Will the show survive Etc.Unfortunately, rather than focus on and develop any of these possible threads, time simply passes filled by the characters aimless banter and endless one liners I mean characters in the loosest possible sense, too, since the lack of apparent conflict deprives the population of this play of meaningful definition beyond their respective function as a vehicle for dialogue Instead of people, we have a Russian accent, a token Irish guy, a token woman, a hypochondriac, and an undifferentiated group of wise cracking mouth breathers Laughter is an amusing trifle, but a trifle all the same Despite or perhaps because of Simon s sepia patina, this work has all the emotional resonance of your average knock knock book.London Suite 3 stars, if you re generous and round upward see my review of Plaza Suite Vol 1 for my general thoughts about Neil Simon s adoption of the anthology form After the playlet which inaugurates this collection, this version is the least successful of his three suites inasmuch as it revisits premises better exploited by Simon elsewhere Set here in an historic London hostelry we have A 5 star turn in which a writer interrogates his embezzling manager at gunpoint As this is the one original piece in the collection, it merits some further comment First, it s noteworthy as a revenge fantasy in light of Simon s lament regarding his own personal lack of business savvy and poor judgment in selecting financial managers Second, by reducing an otherwise engaging comeuppance caper to lines of exposition in the implausible setting of a luxury hotel room a luxury hotel not being perhaps the first place I d take my kidnap victims , the playwright has squandered an opportunity to create a farengaging story that dramatizes its action in situ Imagine limiting the presentation of The Usual Suspects to a straightforward 20 minute police room dialogue between Chazz Palmentieri and Kevin Spacey, and this is what you get Economical, sure, but how could Simon have failed to exploit the potential of a full length work A 3 star dramedy in which a woman encourages her mother to re open herself to romance six years following the tragic early death of her the mother s husband Premise sound familiar A wonky date again related as post hoc exposition leads to the mother s big reveal that she was already involved with a married man albeit one whose spouse has been and is expected to remain in a vegetative state for some time How will the daughter react to this information I m not sure the resolution or story makes sense, though While it makes sense to withhold information about the mother s current romance from the audience to impose a dramatic arc, the nature of the revelation undermines the logic of the plot if the mother is in fact already emotionally committed to someone who needs her and reciprocates her affection, then neither she nor her daughter have any reason for her to go solo on an impromptu date the last night of a shared weekend getaway I suppose in short efforts such as this, the audience is not expected to have time to think about that, but it s the kind of thing that really annoys me as a reader A 2 star tear jerker that mashes up California Suite s British couple visiting the Oscars with the pair of divorcees negotiating custody Here the negotiation is about ultimate custody of the man, who is dying from lung cancer There s just insufficient opportunity to invest in the protagonists for this to be involving Finally, we have the now obligatory farce 1 star, alas that combines the signature events of California Suite s vacay from hell scene with the back pain schtick elaborated in Rumors In this one, the setup to the back spasm takes so long, one wonders if Simon drafted this on the fly as filler material The playwright tweaks his original ending everyone writhing in agony on the floor by insinuating John Cleese s Fawlty Towers manager to obliviously overstep the damage.By assigning to his characters names Diana, Grace, and Sitgood et al in the back spasm farce that Simon has the characters mock an author s apologia to his audience, if ever there were one it is clear that Neil Simon was simply mailing it in for London Suite.If I ve learned nothing else from my Neil Simon marathon soon to be concluded with my review of Volume 3 , it s how even mediocre facets of a larger body of work contribute to an overall appreciation of an artist s aesthetic sensibility Simon himself is on record as believing his prolific output to have resulted in a littlethan a handful of material he is proud to leave behind As one of Simon s various personae contends in London Suite pp 302 303 My talent is used up It doesn t keep filling itself over and over again, flooding the banks of your mind like the river Nile every spring It dries up cracks under the searing pressure of critics and readers who demand art, high standards, and enormous popularity all at the same time I did, however, write eight wonderful works before the drought set in As one who s seen both the original film The Goodbye Girl Marsha Mason and Richard Dreyfuss and the Broadway musical version Bernadette Peters and Martin Short , I can assure you that not only Neil Simon, but also composer Marvin Hamlisch A Chorus Line and lyricist David Zippel City of Angels have been put to better use But it s still a shame a casual reader can t yet revisit these in print Compulsive completist I may be, yet I find it reasonably galling that there s a full volume of his work as yet unanthologized I hope Simon Schuster aren t just waiting on the man to die As my little foray into Simonology ought to demonstrate, a little obsession goes a long way.Oh, and could a Goodreads librarian please disambiguate the four volumes For some reason, GR has these linked as separate editions off volume 1 even though they are wholly distinct It s been years since I ve read plays, probably not since my undergraduate days when they were assigned I don t know where this came from, but I enjoyed the mix of serious drama with comedy, as is true of most of Simon s work These were written between 1988 and 1993 some I had heard of and or seen, others were new to me It tempts me to read. Full disclosure I haven t looked to see the critical acclaim of these plays If nothing else, Simon s intro, Portrait of the Writer As A Schizophrenic is worth a few stars alone It is a fantastic glimpse into the mind of a writer that is able to be in the moment while simultaneously analyzing the moment and seeing it from afar Nora Ephron remarks upon this dichotomy in a similar way Absolutely excellent.The Odd Couple Absolute classic Must read for American comedy.Plaza Suite Really dif Full disclosure I haven t looked to see the critical acclaim of these plays If nothing else, Simon s intro, Portrait of the Writer As A Schizophrenic is worth a few stars alone It is a fantastic glimpse into the mind of a writer that is able to be in the moment while simultaneously analyzing the moment and seeing it from afar Nora Ephron remarks upon this dichotomy in a similar way Absolutely excellent.The Odd Couple Absolute classic Must read for American comedy.Plaza Suite Really different than his other works in that not only is it not a comedy, but it also drags a little bit Not bad, but lacked pace.Barefoot In The Park Absolute classic Must read for American comedy.Come Blow Your Horn I had never heard much about this play prior to reading it, but I really enjoyed it A great gem in this compilation, and an excellent use of having only two characters onstage for long periods of time while keeping it entertaining Several laugh out loud moments.The Star Spangled Girl Easily the best opening to a play I ve read yet The first 15 pages or so are dynamite, but it really slows to a crawl when Sophie enters the show The dynamic changes and it isn t as fun.Promises, Promises The musical adaptation of Billy Wilder s The Apartment It s not bad, but save yourself the time and just read The Apartment.Last of the Red Hot Lovers The last scene is pretty fun Other than that it s okay Doesn t have the same magic with two character dialogue as Come Blow Your Horn

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