Biloxi Blues Essay - Critical Essays

Neil Simon

Critical Context

Biloxi Blues is, along with Brighton Beach Memoirs (pr. 1983, pb. 1984) and Broadway Bound (pr. 1986, pb. 1987), part of a trilogy of autobiographical plays that many critics believe mark a turning point in Simon’s artistic development. Simon began his career as a television comedy writer in the 1950’s; beginning with Come Blow Your Horn in 1960 (pb. 1961), he wrote a string of more than twenty plays, almost all commercial successes, in the decades preceding the trilogy. During the 1966-1967 season, Simon had four comedies running concurrently on Broadway. Many of Simon’s earlier plays have autobiographical sources, such as Barefoot in the Park (pr. 1963, pb. 1964), The Odd Couple (pr. 1965, pb. 1966), and Chapter Two (pr. 1977, pb. 1979), and some delve deeper into character and issues, such as The Gingerbread Lady (pr. 1970, pb. 1971), California Suite (pr. 1976, pb. 1977), and the screenplay Only When I Laugh (1981). On the whole, however, the earlier works are formulaic comedies springing from a potent comic premise—wedding-day jitters (Plaza Suite, pr. 1968, pb. 1969), a middle-aged Don Juan (Last of the Red Hot Lovers, pr. 1969, pb. 1970), or fading vaudevillians (The Sunshine Boys, pr. 1972, pb. 1973)—and lacking in deeper dramatic elements such as poetry, tragedy, and social purpose.

The trilogy marks a departure from this pattern. Here the autobiographical voice is unmistakable, for Eugene Morris Jerome, who appears through all three plays, clearly represents the young Simon. The characters in the trilogy are more fully drawn, their situations more realistic, and the issues they confront more compelling. The exigencies of comedy—careful sequencing of jokes, juxtaposition of extremes, farce—have not been abandoned, but they have lost priority to the aim of telling a real story, of making an audience think and feel amid the laughter.

For these reasons, Brighton Beach Memoirs received much critical attention. Two years later, after two and a half decades of writing extremely popular comedies, Simon finally won a Tony Award for Biloxi Blues as the best play of 1985. After Biloxi Blues, the United States’ foremost comedy writer stepped into position to become one of its finest dramatists as well. His Lost in Yonkers (pr., pb. 1991) won for him his second Pulitzer Prize in drama as well as a Drama Desk Award.