Critical Context (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series)

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 291

Neil Simon’s twentieth play, Brighton Beach Memoirs was the first in a semiautobiographical trilogy including Biloxi Blues (1986) and Broadway Bound (1987). Throughout the plays, Eugene is almost synonymous with Simon himself, except for a five-year difference in age, and Stanley represents the playwright’s older brother Danny. In Broadway Bound, Stanley is shown as the father-substitute that Danny evidently was for Simon. Like Danny, he encourages Eugene to write and even becomes his collaborator. In Broadway Bound, however, the marriage of the Jeromes is a disaster, ending in divorce, as was the case with Simon’s parents. The Pulitzer-Prize-winning Lost in Yonkers (1991) also draws on the playwright’s memories of his childhood: Unlike the dependable Jack Jerome of Brighton Beach Memoirs, Simon’s father used to disappear for months at a time, often forcing his wife and children to be taken in by relatives. Brighton Beach Memoirs, then, can be seen as presenting Simon’s ideal of what a family should be, rather than as an accurate portrait of his own experience.

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Although these autobiographical details are of interest, any literary work must stand on its own merits. Brighton Beach Memoirs confused the critics. Some of them insisted that it was just another Simon play, notable for the gags, while others complained that the wisecracking weakened a serious realistic drama. Other critics labeled it sentimental, pointing to the facile ending. The public, however, was enthusiastic. The play became a hit, had a three-year run on Broadway, was made into a film, and continues to be a staple among local and regional theatrical companies. Brighton Beach Memoirs is often studied in high school and college classes as a comic but perceptive dramatization of what it is like to be a young adult.

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