Cover image for The play goes on : a memoir
Title:
The play goes on : a memoir
Author:
Simon, Neil.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster, [1999]

©1999
Physical Description:
348 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
General Note:
Continues the author's Rewrites.

Includes index.
Language:
English
Personal Subject:
Added Author:
ISBN:
9780684846910
Format :
Book

Available:*

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Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Status
Central Library PS3537.I663 Z473 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
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Central Library PS3537.I663 Z473 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
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Orchard Park Library PS3537.I663 Z473 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
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Summary

Summary

The renowned American playwright reveals how, following the death of his wife, he found creative inspiration in his career and a new relationship.


Author Notes

Born in the Bronx, Simon had childhood ambitions to be a doctor, but after attending New York University and the University of Denver, he turned instead to television, writing comedy for Sid Caesar, Phil Silvers, and others. His first play, Come Blow Your Horn (1958), about a young rebel who moves into the luxurious apartment of his older brother, is partly autobiographical. Since then, Simon has written numerous successful comedies. Most are about the middle class, the comedy deriving from situations of personal frustration. Although detractors have accused him of superficiality, today Simon is widely considered one of the world's most successful playwrights. His plays have been produced in community theaters throughout the country and have also been made into films. He is so well known that when he opens a new play on Broadway his name is often put in larger letters than the title of his work. A master at comedy, Simon gets laughs not just from clever gags and one-liners, but also by presenting deviations from the normal in character, situation, and thought. Although he seems to espouse conventional values, it is the dramatic deviation from these social norms that make his works so funny. Some of Simon's most commercially successful plays include Barefoot in the Park (1963), The Odd Couple (1965), Plaza Suite (1968), The Last of the Red-Hot Lovers (1969), The Sunshine Boys (1972), and California Suite (1976). But Simon has also been willing to experiment. The Good Doctor (1973) is based on humorous stories by Anton Chekhov (see Vol. 2). God's Favorite (1974) is adapted from the Biblical story of Job, and Fools (1981) is set in an idyllic Russian hamlet where the villagers suffer from chronic stupidity. In recent years, Simon's plays have become increasingly autobiographical, reflecting both his Jewish background and events from his later life. Chapter Two (1977) was written in agonized response to the death of his first wife, Joan, and his subsequent courtship of and marriage to actress Marsha Mason. Brighton Beach Memoirs (1983), the first of an autobiographical trilogy, is set in Brooklyn in 1937 with the teenaged hero, aspiring writer Eugene, modeled on the young Neil Simon. Biloxi Blues (1985) shows Eugene learning about life and developing his writing skills while at boot camp during World War II. Broadway Bound (1986), the most successful of the trilogy, is vaguely reminiscent of a Tennessee Williams memory play: Eugene and his older brother attempt to break into the world of professional comedy writing while coping with their parents' impending divorce. The figure of the mother, Kate, is one of Simon's finest achievements. Over the years, Neil Simon's plays have matured artistically and philosophically, and he has begun to gain the admiration not just of his audiences, but also of theater artists, critics, and scholars. The themes about which he writes are important ones: sibling rivalry, the crises of puberty, and the frustrations of sexual awakening; the values of friendship, love, marriage, and family; midlife problems associated with infidelity, divorce, and death; and, finally, the importance of individual dignity. Neil Simon's reputation has been enhanced by numerous awards. He received an Emmy in 1957 and again in 1959 for his television work. He received the Tony in 1963, 1965, 1970, and 1985. He was given the Writer's Guild of America West Award for his screenplays in 1969, 1971, 1972, and 1976. In 1983 he received the New York Drama Critics Circle Award. In 1983 and again in 1985 he received the Outer Circle Award. (Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Simon made his name with lighthearted, middlebrow comedies about middle-class New Yorkers battling life in the city. In the early '80s, first in Brighton Beach Memoirs, he changed his style. The plays became darker, their stories more bittersweet, their characters more complex. Simon no longer used jokes to shield strong feelings but instead used humor to open up his characters' rich emotional lives. Why he changed is one of the unstated questions that powers this memoir, a companion volume to Rewrites (1996). It recounts the second half of Simon's life, starting with the life-shattering impact of the death of his first wife, Joan, of cancer at 40, and proceeding through the ensuing 30 years, during which Simon had periods of incredible fertility and others in which his creativity dried up and he feared he would never write again. Simon pays close attention to the ups and downs of his emotional life, including his further marriages, to actress Marsha Mason and to Diane Lander, and the low points after each marriage cracked up. Simon's memoir is warm, open, and highly readable, and though its tone is confessional, Simon avoids the narcissistic excesses that mar many autobiographies. He is a born wordsmith, and his rich, rare, wise memoir is as enjoyable as a good novel. --Jack Helbig


Publisher's Weekly Review

Simon begins his hauntingly sad yet often quite funny second memoir (following his 1996 Rewrites) in 1973, on the day after the burial of his first wife, who died of cancer. Things look bad at first, as the massively successful American playwright (he's won the Pulitzer Prize and three Tony awards, and written 40 plays and almost as many original and adapted screenplays) can't even get out of bed. It thus comes as a great relief, if also something of a surprise, when Simon meets and marries actress Marsha Mason three months later. In Mason, Simon finds not only an outstanding interpreter of his words (Goodbye Girl, Only When I Laugh), but also an inspiration (Chapter Two, a play about a widower's second marriage). When his relationship with Mason collapses nine years later, Simon plunges back into a depression that is exacerbated by his first-ever career slump. Eventually, he applies a combination of innovative personal therapies (he spends a lot of time with his dog and shoots a pistol into his swimming pool) and professional luck (he stumbles over a draft of the eventual megahit Brighton Beach Memoirs that he had penned several years before) and claws his way out of his slump. His greatest successes still lay ahead (along with another marriageÄand divorce and remarriage) in the form of his BB trilogy (Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues and Broadway Bound), featuring his alter ego Eugene Jerome. Simon says that a memoir should serve two functions: "to pass on as much as you're willing to tell" and "to discover a truth about yourself you never had the time or courage to face before." A superb and introspective raconteur, he achieves both goals many times over in this exhilarating book. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

"Just as I never plan what play or film I might write next, I don't plan on what I will write next in these memoirs," says Simon. Well, Neil, it certainly shows. Readers plodding through this second self-portrait will find it hard to believe that this is the same person who wrote The Odd Couple and The Sunshine Boys. While Simon's stage dialog crackles with wit, his first-person narrative voice is as flat as the paper it's written on. This book picks up where his first memoir, Rewrites, concluded; here Simon provides a laundry list of his mid-life achievements, from winning a Pulitzer Prize to marrying and divorcing women in less time than it takes most guys to wear out a pair of sneakers. The book's most interesting moments come when Simon talks about the creative act of writingÄwhich isn't very often. Nonetheless, given Simon's enormous popularity, this book is still an important purchase for all public and large academic libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/99.]ÄMichael Rogers, "Library Journal" (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter One Life Revisited Everything stopped. The sun came up, the clocks ticked on but nothing moved. I was always a morning person: the first one up in the house, the first one dressed, the first one down in the kitchen, the first one at breakfast. But now I was still in bed, without a clue as to what time it was. I could hear the hum of the air conditioner, feel a chill in the room and yet my pajama tops were drenched through with perspiration. Were the girls upstairs in their rooms, silently waiting for me to come up to tell them what we would do with this, the first day of our lives on our own? I was fighting the act of awakening. I kept my eyes closed in hopes that sleep would overtake me once more, buying me more time before I would have to take a deep breath and then release it, acknowledging that I was alive. The future was a totally unpleasant prospect and I wasn't quite ready to deal with it. We had buried my wife, Joan, the day before at the Pound Ridge Cemetery in New York. She had just turned forty and had died of cancer, the most surprising thing she had done in a life filled with surprises. I clung tenaciously to the darkness behind my closed lids, trying to keep the daylight at bay, much as I had as a boy when it was time to leave the local movie house, knowing that I left Humphrey Bogart or Errol Flynn still battling villains on the screen, while outside I squinted at the glaring harshness of the four o'clock sun and faced the heat of another endless summer's day. Nancy was ten and Ellen was fifteen. It was July 12, 1973. Eight days before, on the Fourth of July, I had turned forty-six. It might as well have been sixty-six for all the lethargy and despondency I felt in my aching mind and body on that dreary morning. I pushed myself out of bed and crossed to the closet, looking for a robe that I almost never wore. Robes always made me feel either sick or old or both. Mine was a gift from Joan's mother, and I had feigned delight and pleasure when I opened it in front of her at an earlier birthday, knowing that I would never wear it, that it would only take up valuable space in my small closet. How ironic that I would be putting it on today, the day after her daughter died. But I needed a robe that morning because I did not want to face the girls in sweaty pajamas, although I had neither the strength nor inclination to get out of those pajamas, nor could I imagine myself doing so in the foreseeable future. What for? There was nothing outside that small town house on East 62nd Street that I wanted or needed to see. Nor anyone besides my daughters. I neither asked for nor invited friends or family to pay us a condolence call. At least not on that first day. The few really close friends I had would call later that morning, but they understood when I said, "Not yet. Give me today alone with the girls." Despite the fact that I had been aware for the past year and a half that Joan was going to die, I was unprepared for what I experienced on that first morning. It was not exactly grief, because, in a sense, I had been grieving those last few months of her life. This was a feeling of numbness, inertia and confusion, leading to a frightening inability to make a decision, trivial or otherwise. I have no memory of when I first saw the girls that morning, but Nancy told me recently that for some inexplicable reason, what she pictures in her mind today was the three of us in semidarkness, sitting on the steps leading from the kitchen down to the basement. An implausible place to meet, and yet, for that morning, as plausible as any. The thought uppermost in my mind was to distract the girls from dealing with the past, and to get them busy with getting on with life, making some small attempt at normalcy. I am always amazed at the resiliency of the young. They looked at me, waiting to hear what my plans were, ready and eager to comply. Neither girl had intended to be home that summer, both having made plans, not fully realizing the graveness of Joan's condition. Nancy was summoned back from camp when Joan passed away sooner than I ever imagined, and Ellen had canceled a student trip to Europe to be with her mother for her last few months. I suggested getting away from New York, as far away as possible, distancing ourselves from loss and sorrow. The summer house in Pound Ridge, New York, that I had bought expressly as a gift to Joan, where I hoped she would recover from her illness, was just a marginal choice to revisit. I offered to take them both to Europe, reasoning that traveling and being together would be, if not a fun-filled vacation, at least a chance to heal ourselves in new surroundings, in a place with fewer memories. Nancy surprised me when she opted to return to camp. It also gave me a sense of relief to know that this ten-year-old knew what was best for her. Ellen and I left together for Europe a week later. I made the mistake of returning to all the same hotels that Joan and I had stayed in, something that proved harder for me to deal with than for Ellen. But slowly, day by day, I began to see a change in Ellen, a maturing, perhaps growing up faster than she normally would have if Joan were still alive. She started to point out things in shops in London and in Paris that might go nicely in our house. As it had been with Joan, who always brought home pretty and useful items from our trips, it was now with Ellen, who kept her eye open for unusual pieces I never thought remotely interested her before. In a sense, she was emulating Joan, perhaps not consciously, but in the normal way that a child takes on some of the traits of the parent of the same gender. By the time we returned home in late August, Ellen walked into our kitchen, opened the cabinets and said, "You know what, Dad? We need new dishes." Nancy came home a few days later, taller, tanner and a good deal happier than when she left. We were all so glad to see each other, and our conversation that night was about what we had done that summer and not about the tragedy we left behind. But it was certainly not gone from their minds; I noticed that clearly as Nancy climbed the steps that night and glanced quickly in my bedroom to see the made-up bed which Joan had occupied for so many months during her illness. Later I heard laughter from their rooms and then the sound of tapes playing the Broadway musicals they loved so much, and their singing the lyrics to their favorite songs, loudly and slightly off-key. Eventually they switched to television and called down to me, "Dad, come on up and watch with us." I knew once I got in their room, they would bar me from leaving, forcing me to watch every fashion show, sitcom, summer rerun and old black-and-white movie. As I ascended the stairs, smelling the fresh popcorn they had just made, while scorching the bottom of the pot, I said to myself, "Thank you God for making daughters." Copyright © 1999 Neil Simon. All rights reserved.

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