Thursday, October 22, 2009

Confusion Tonight: Does anyone read these things before they send them out?


Harvey Fierstein won a Tony for Torch Song Triology in 1983, the same year in which a young actor named Matthew Broderick won one for originating the role of Eugene Jerome, the fictional stand-in for playwright Neil Simon, in Brighton Beach Memoirs.

by Ken

Because I really love the plays in question, and because I wouldn't at all mind seeing "3 Time Emmy Award Winner Laurie Metcalf" as Kate Jerome in both, even though the discount offer I got probably isn't generous enough to get me to bite, I gave more than usual attention to this descriptive blurb that accompanied the offer:

The Neil Simon Plays

See 3 Time Emmy Award Winner Laurie Metcalf Live on Broadway!

Playing in repertory for the first time, Neil Simon’s famous semi-autobiographical trilogy returns to Broadway. This fall, Brighton Beach Memoirs and Broadway Bound will once again show all the heart, the humor, and the honesty that have made Neil Simon America’s greatest living playwright. Starring Laurie Metcalf of TV's "Roseanne" & "Desperate Housewives," these two award-winning works played over 2,000 performances in their original B'way run, and stand as two of the funniest and most touching plays ever written by Neil Simon. See additional notes for plot and schedule details for each play. Seeing one play is amazing, seeing both will knock your socks off.

Is this a ground-breaking announcement, or what? Do you see what's bothering me here?

To read the answer, turn your computer screen upside down and stand on your head.


I know things happen faster in our go-go age, but as far as I know, this is the first two-play trilogy in theater history.

Broadway Bound, which takes place around 1949 as Eugene Jerome and his older brother, Stanley -- fictional stand-ins, of course, for playwright Neil Simon and his older brother, Danny -- are breaking into the comedy-writing business, indeed completed a trilogy, which had been begun with Brighton Beach Memoirs, which takes place in 1937 and chronicles the teenage Jerome boys' household. Which kind of leaves a big gap.

What happened in between was Biloxi Blues. Drafted into the Army during World War II, Eugene left New York City for the first time and got laid for the first time. I guess it's understandable that this play, which doesn't take place in the city and doesn't involve any Jerome except Eugene, has been left out of this revival, which has apparently been a longtime dream of longtime Simon producer Emanuel Azenberg. If doing two plays in repertory was his dream, perhaps he's learned to keep his dreams in bounds? The playwright has clearly given his approval to the venture, but once upon a time he dared to dream a little larger.

I for one would have been happy to see a better production of Biloxi Blues than the original, though of course there's no guarantee that a new production would have been any better. Meanwhile, The Neil Simon Plays -- with BBM playing now, and BB opening November 18 -- seems kind of a fancy title for this revival of Brighton Beach Memoirs, playing now, and Broadway Bound, opening November 18. (Apparently they do eventually wind up in repertory.) Do you suppose consideration was ever given to calling it A Coupla Neil Simon Plays?

Note: I see that on the official website for The Neil Simon Plays, these two are referred to as "the acclaimed bookends of Neil Simon’s famous semi-autobiographical trilogy." Thank you.


At 6:30 AM, Anonymous Lee said...


I live in Philly and my sister is at 39th and 9th. Going to NY and seeing plays is one luxury I just won't give up.

I'm not a Neil Simon fan. But Torch Song? I saw the original with Estelle Getty. What a masterpiece, funny, poignant and relevant. To EVERYONE. Not just drag queens trying to find love. Well maybe not the 35 Republican Senators that voted against the hate crimes bill.

I don't know what they want except more hate.

At 10:26 AM, Blogger KenInNY said...

I was hoping to find a production photo from the original production of one of the Simon plays, but failing that, when I found Matthew Broderick with Harvey Fierstein, I was pretty happy. And it's a not entirely unrelated juxtaposition of material: plays by two authors trying to make sense of where they came from and how they found their place in the world.

Thanks for the fond reminiscence of Torch Song, Lee. Looking back, I think we can see it, with its unexpected appeal to mainstream audiences, as a landmark in a process that certainly hasn't been completed but has come a lot farther in 26 years than most of us would have imagined possible: society coming to accept that people are people, and while we all have our crazinesses, it's not the harmless ones we have to watch out for but the harmful ones.

With regard to Neil Simon, I should probably make clear that what I love isn't the way his plays are normally performed, which is as a vehicle for keeping an elbow poised at your ribs. But I really don't believe that elbow is the author's. I don't know of many playwrights who have written with more concern for or understanding of how we humans struggle to find our way in this confusing world.

One thing I learned from the TV production of Broadway Bound, which tried to treat the material more honestly, is that this approach is much, much harder. If you go looking for the truth of the characters, you had better not only find it but find it well enough to make it happen spontaneously on stage or camera, or it isn't going to be funny or interesting.

Finding the truth of people's lives and also making it alive theatrically is really hard work. Of course that's what a lot of talented actors and directors and other stage professionals get into the profession to do. But on the whole, it's way easier and even more profitable to go for the yuks.



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