Barefoot in the Park Essay - Critical Essays

Neil Simon

Critical Context

Barefoot in the Park is the first of Neil Simon’s plays to move toward using characters, rather than character types, to illuminate relationships. Come Blow Your Horn (pr. 1960) is typical in its use of character types, which never really move beyond the superficial. The characters in Barefoot in the Park may behave typically, but they are very human. The same can be said for Oscar and Felix in The Odd Couple (pr. 1965) in that their actions are typical of the slob and the fussily neat, but both characters are imbued with traits which make them more than caricatures.

Barefoot in the Park is part of a cycle of Simon plays dealing with the subject of marriage. Come Blow Your Horn is about a playboy who discovers that marriage is a part of life he has wrongfully eschewed, Barefoot in the Park observes newlyweds, and The Odd Couple examines divorce. Sections of Plaza Suite (pr. 1968) and California Suite (pr. 1976) cover much of the same ground, while Chapter Two (pr. 1977) shows a bereaved protagonist finding new life.

Simon has been accused of being a popular playwright—one who writes lightweight pieces rather than true drama. The librettos for the musicals Little Me (pr. 1962), Sweet Charity (pr., pb. 1966), Promises, Promises (pr. 1968), and They’re Playing Our Song (pr. 1978) are indeed rather light, as is his farce Rumors (pr. 1988). Simon’s autobiographical trilogy, however—Brighton Beach Memoirs (pr. 1983), Biloxi Blues (pr. 1984), and Broadway Bound (pr. 1986)—proves that he is capable of weightier work. In these three plays, as well as in his 1991 play Lost in Yonkers (pb. 1991), which won the Pulitzer Prize in drama, Simon explores family life, values, and the need for human contact with a poignancy that can be traced directly back to his successful early career as represented by Barefoot in the Park.