Neil Simon was one of the most successful commercial playwrights in the history of theater and likely the most recognizable of American playwrights. In creating a steady stream of Broadway hits, starting with Come Blow Your Horn (1961), Simon garnered numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize in drama in 1991. Though critics often found his work to be sentimental, predictable, and shallow, Simon was consistently popular with Broadway, regional, and community theater audiences. In his most popular period, the mid-1960’s and early 1970’s, Simon at times had as many as four hits running simultaneously on Broadway.
The Odd Couple is probably the best-known Simon comedy, owing not only to its strikingly comic situation and distinctive main characters but also to the commercially successful spin-offs from the play—a well-received film adaptation in 1968, an enormously popular television series that ran from 1970 to 1975, and a female-version sequel in 1985. Simon’s plays, and especially his early plays, typically generate belly laughs through carefully orchestrated comic conflict, brisk pace, and extremely witty dialogue freely punctuated with comic one-liners. The Odd Couple has all of these.
The theme of The Odd Couple, if it has one, involves human incompatibility and the observation that compromise is necessary in any kind of marital-like relationship. Oscar and Felix illustrate that men who do not get along with their wives will probably be incompatible with others in precisely the same way. Regardless of the situation and genders involved, effective compromise in human relationships is rare. To some, however, this description of thematic elements in The Odd Couple might seem excessively academic. Do Simon’s plays really exist to investigate thematic issues? Some find his plays, and especially his later plays, convincing in their treatment of serious thematic issues, while others find nearly all of his plays quite shallow. A large majority, however, simply assert that Simon’s plays are...
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