Celebrating Neil Simon’s comedy
As a playwright, becoming a household name for play is a notable feat. Neil Simon had 30 plays open on Broadway, including five musicals, and had 18 of his plays adapted for film or television. The Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright has also been nominated for Oscars, Tonys and Academy Awards.
And this Saturday, Nov. 9, The Sandisfield Players will pay homage to that feat with the “Celebration of the Work of Neil Simon.”
Through the instigation of Sandisfield Player Charles Evers Whyte, excerpts of some of Neil Simon’s best-known comedy will come to life at the Sandisfield Arts Center Stage from 8 to 10 p.m., said Benjamin Luxon, director of the production.
“The players came to me with much enthusiasm about doing this,” said Luxon. “Evers had suggested a number of little scenes and that’s what really got this off the ground.”
Simon, who died last year from reported complications of pneumonia at 91, first broke into the Broadway scene with “Barefoot in the Park” in 1963. In the play, newlyweds Corie and Paul Bratter get a surprise visit from Corie’s mother following their six-day honeymoon. The couple attempts to play matchmaker during a dinner with their neighbor and everything that could go wrong, does. In 1967, a film based on the play was released, starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda.
In 1965, Simon introduced the world to roommates, uptight Felix Ungar and unkempt Oscar Madison in “The Odd Couple.” In 1968, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, who played Felix and Oscar, respectively, brought Simon’s characters to life in film.
“Neil Simon had a monster career. He dominated Broadway,” said Luxon. “The man had so many plays and was a huge influence on the world of comedy.”
Luxon, a British baritone, comes to the community-based theater group having performed in world-leading opera houses and symphony orchestras all over the world. He also spent nearly 10 years performing with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood.
In selecting the scenes for the performance, Luxon says he sought a balanced program that would offer short bits and pieces that he felt were very funny as well as a more serious piece like “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” which is one part of Simon’s autobiographical trilogy.
Set in the late 1930s, Simon depicts writer Eugene Jerome living with his family in a Jewish household lower middle-class Brooklyn.
Being directed by Luxon in this production was an honor, said Mary Anne Grammer.
“He has instinct and experience and is a very giving director. The scenes he has chosen are especially funny and there is also a very moving scene from Brighton Beach Memoirs,” she said in a statement. “As always, the cast feels like a family.”
Luxon describes the production as more of a “casual and less formal one” as the performers will be holding their scripts.
In addition to Barefoot in the Park and The Odd Couple, Simon is also known for “The Sunshine Boys,” and “California Suite,” among others.
Together with Whyte and Grammer, Luxon says he helped to cultivate a program that includes scenes from eight of Simon’s plays.
“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun,” said Luxon. “I think it will be a very refreshing way to remember what a legacy Neil Simon left.”
The Celebration of the Work of Neil Simon opens at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 9 at the historic Sandisfield Arts Center, located at 5 Hammertown Road.
The center is volunteer-run and supported, in part, by grants from the Sandisfield Cultural Council, Otis Cultural Council, New Marlborough Cultural Council, the Monterey Cultural Council, and the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
Tickets are $20 and available at sandisfieldartscenter.org or by calling 413-258-4100.Tags: Neil Simon, The Sandisfield Players, Celebration of the Work of Neil Simon