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What characteristics distinguished Neil Simon’s early plays?

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How did Simon become the most successful playwright in the history of the American theater?

How did the Brighton Beach trilogy enhance Simon’s reputation?

Why do critics consider Lost in Yonkers to be superior to Simon’s previous plays?

Simon has speculated that some day his plays might be compared to the comedies of William Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw. How do you think they compare?

Compare Simon to other playwrights with whose works you are familiar.

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In addition to his plays, Neil Simon has written numerous scripts for motion pictures. Among these are After the Fox (1966, with Cesare Zavattini), The Out-of-Towners (1970), The Heartbreak Kid (1972), Murder by Death (1976), The Goodbye Girl (1977), The Cheap Detective (1978), Seems Like Old Times (1980), Max Dugan Returns (1983), The Lonely Guy (1984), and The Slugger’s Wife (1985). He has also adapted dozens of his plays to the screen, from Barefoot in the Park (1967) to I Ought to Be in Pictures (1982) and Biloxi Blues (1988). Along with his brother, Simon wrote during the 1940’s and 1950’s for a variety of television shows, including The Phil Silvers Show (1948), The Tallulah Bankhead Show (1951), The Sid Caesar Show (1956-1957), and The Garry Moore Show (1959-1960). His teleplays include Broadway Bound (1992), Jake’s Women (1996), and The Sunshine Boys (1997). Simon published Rewrites: A Memoir in 1996, adding a second autobiographical volume, The Play Goes On: A Memoir, in 1999.


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Neil Simon has established himself as a leading American playwright of the late twentieth century. As a master of domestic comedy and one-line humor, his popular appeal was established early in his career. Though considered by some to be lighter or less serious because of his comedic talents, as his career progressed, Simon infused his comedy with greater amounts of social relevance, autobiographical inspiration, and dramatic depth. Many of his plays explore the thin line that separates comedy from pathos, provoking audiences to laugh through their tears. His plays focus on character and personal relationships in primarily middle-class, urban settings in the United States. Nevertheless, the stories he dramatizes are about basic human problems and aspirations, and his plays have proven to have universal appeal.

Simon has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors. They include two Emmy Awards for his work in television in 1957 and 1959; a Tony Award for Best Author for The Odd Couple in 1965, and another for Biloxi Blues in 1985; a New York Drama Critics Circle Award in 1983 for Brighton Beach Memoirs; a New York State Governor’s Award in 1986; and a Pulitzer Prize in Drama and a Tony Award for Best Play for Lost in Yonkers, both in 1991. In 1993 President Bill Clinton hosted Simon at the White House when Simon received Kennedy Center Honors.


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Henry, William A., III. “Reliving a Poignant Past.” Time, December 15, 1986, 72-78. Henry describes the success of the play Broadway Bound and its biographical sources, and includes details about Simon’s marriages, lifestyle, writing habits, and older brother Danny. Compares Simon’s life with its fictional parallels, especially in Broadway Bound.

Johnson, Robert K. Neil Simon. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1983. In this thoughtful and penetrating study, Johnson examines Simon’s career and output through 1982, providing thorough synopses, analysis, and criticism of both plays and screenplays. Includes a chronology, a select bibliography, notes, and an index.

Konas, Gary, ed. Neil Simon: A Casebook . New York: Garland, 1997. Seven scholarly articles examine the influence of Simon’s Jewish heritage and compare his work with that of other...

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Critical Essays