I wanted very much to choose a Neil Simon play for my first (straight play) directing assignment here at PTC. An author of over thirty plays, four musicals, and countless motion pictures, Simon is—without a doubt—one of the most successful, prolific and skilled American playwrights. He’s the founder of what we recognize as contemporary theatrical comedies. His plays continue to be the catalyst for TV sit-coms—and what, really, is The Odd Couple but a situation comedy? You might recognize The Odd Couple’s characters from TV, or from the movie, but they began their lives in this stage play.
Many of Simon’s plays, including The Odd Couple, are based on his life or the life of someone he knows. In this case, it’s based on his brother, who moved in with a friend after getting divorced. I think this is the element of Simon’s work that ultimately makes it so accessible—the fact that, despite the hilarious and seemingly improbable situations, everything he writes is based on real people. We can recognize ourselves in his work.
But there’s more to the story of why I wanted to direct a Neil Simon this season. Beginning in 1972, with The Sunshine Boys, my father began producing Neil Simon’s plays for Broadway. At the time it was nothing special for me; it was what my dad did. That was his job. I was unaware that not everyone worked on “Broadway,” and I certainly didn’t think that Neil Simon was famous, or more important, than anyone else my dad worked with.
But I did like his plays. And I liked hearing about how they worked on the plays, how characters changed, how scenes were rewritten, and how audiences were gauged during the all-important out-of-town tryouts. As I got older, I realized that not everyone worked in the theatre, and that my tiny childhood window into this world was unique. Besides sharing his love for the theatre, and his passion for the work, my father gave me a front-row seat to theatre history in the making.
As I begin my tenure at Pioneer Theatre Company, I always want to share my passion for the theatre with you. And what better way to do that than to share one of the pieces that ignited my appreciation for this work? A Neil Simon comedy.
~ Karen Azenberg