Jean Kerr John Simon - Essay

John Simon

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The wives of New York Times drama critics should not write plays—at least not such feeble ones as Lunch Hour….

The plot concerns Oliver, a psychiatrist who for obscure reasons prefers to call himself a marriage counselor and whose wife, Nora, is betraying him with a millionaire who does nothing and calls it so. This handsome fellow, Peter, has married for obscure reasons a dopey, homely, neurotic child-wife, Carrie, and is now about to elope, for no less obscure reasons, with the seemingly icy Nora. When Carrie bursts in on Oliver, revealing the cockeyed cuckolding, she and Oliver fall in love and contemplate running off to Paris together. Given the circumstances, their reasons, at any rate, are not obscure; but considering how unappealing they both are, even their reasons achieve a certain measure of obscurity….

But what need of plausible motivation where the characters are patently puppets? All that is necessary is jokes. Some are the sort you yourself have long since cracked, e.g., that Ms. "doesn't sound liberated; it just sounds short for manuscript." Others are the sort you wouldn't deign to crack, as when Carrie bemoans her protracted sexual ignorance: "You'd think I would have figured out something when I read Anna Karenina." Finally, there are pleasant enough gags by television out of Neil Simon, as when Carrie remarks that in Paris "we'll never have to order French-fried potatoes—they'll just come that way." At that, encounters with jokes of this third kind are relatively rare. The one time Mrs. Kerr made me laugh honestly was when the millionaire, knocked down in a scuffle, assures his wife that he isn't hurt, of course: Rich people never are. And he adds, reflectively, "Actually, I'm surprised I even fell down." This more daring type of witticism Mrs. Kerr rations one to a play; in Mary, Mary, it was the crack about dried apricots. (p. 67)

John Simon, "No, Yes, and Maybe," in New York Magazine (copyright © 1980 by News Group Publications, Inc.; reprinted with the permission of New York Magazine), Vol. 13, No. 47, December 1, 1980, pp. 67-8.∗