Critical Context (Comprehensive Guide to Drama)
Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 493
Brighton Beach Memoirs is one of several Neil Simon plays that explore the dynamics of interpersonal relationships in a wide range of humorous contexts. Simon makes extensive use of this particular type of play, comedies about the pitfalls facing all types of people as they strive to establish and maintain relationships. His plays consistently create a mood of wry humor, suggesting that people should not take themselves too seriously. The play Brighton Beach Memoirs appears to be a semi-autobiographical sketch, with characters based on his family and the friends of his youth in New York City in the Depression years.
Simon’s wit has given his audiences much to laugh at, beginning with his first play, Come Blow Your Horn (pr. 1960, pb. 1961). After its success, he continued to charm his audiences with his sensitivity concerning people and their relationships in a variety of musicals, including Little Me (pr. 1962), Sweet Charity (pr., pb. 1966), and Promises, Promises (pr. 1968, pb. 1969). Simon is able to reveal through his writing a keen sense of human nature. While he writes with compassion and understanding about serious human situations, he never seems to lose sight of the humor inherent in those situations. He is an observer of life, and he writes about what he sees going on around him.
Simon has created numerous plays that are amusing yet also tender examinations of ordinary people; they include Barefoot in the Park (pr. 1963, pb. 1964), The Odd Couple (pr. 1965, pb. 1966), Plaza Suite (pr. 1968, pb. 1969), Last of the Red Hot Lovers (pr. 1969, pb. 1970), The Gingerbread Lady (pr. 1970, pb. 1971), The Prisoner of Second Avenue (pr., pb. 1971), The Sunshine Boys (pr. 1972, pb. 1973), The Good Doctor (pr. 1973, pb. 1974), God’s Favorite (pr. 1974, pb. 1975), and California Suite (pr. 1976, pb. 1977). Chapter Two (pr. 1977, pb. 1979) is a significant achievement in Simon’s career because of its autobiographical nature; it deals with the pain of a man shaken by the death of his wife. Even with such a serious theme, Simon writes an uplifting comedy about two people who rush into a marriage without first getting to know each other.
Several of Simon’s later plays have solidified his craft. He has continued to create powerful statements about people and their personal relationships. Along with Brighton Beach Memoirs, he has written They’re Playing Our Song (pr. 1978, pb. 1980), I Ought to Be in Pictures (pr. 1980, pb. 1981), Biloxi Blues (pr. 1985, pb. 1986), Broadway Bound (pr. 1986, pb. 1987), and Lost in Yonkers (pr., pb. 1991), the winner of the 1991 Pulitzer Prize in drama.
Simon has established himself as a successful writer of comedy with a succession of Broadway hits. His talent has been recognized in many ways. In 1965 he received a Tony Award as best playwright; in 1972 he was Cue magazine’s Entertainer of the Year. Biloxi Blues earned for him a Tony Award for best play. It is generally accepted that Simon, who is not only a playwright but also a television writer and screenwriter, is one of the leading comedic writers of his generation.