Of course stage comedy’s most prolific modern playwright made it into his 90s (91). George Burns (“The Sunshine Boys”) would have demanded no less.
There was a stretch when you couldn’t review theater (60s-early 90s) in any town in America and not run across the sitcom-rimshot stylings of Neil “Doc” Simon. I got to the point, very quickly, where I dreaded each late spring’s announcement of this or that local company’s upcoming season — endless repeats of Neil’s greatest hits — “Barefoot” through “Biloxi,” “Star Spangled Girl” to “They’re Playing Our Song.”
Theater companies knew what the public liked, even if the public wasn’t seeing “California Suit/The Odd Couple/Last of the Red Hot Lovers” (once, I reviewed a touring production of that one with Don Knotts and Barbara Eden) for the tenth, fifteenth time.
But I watched him workshop “Jake’s Women” (starring Alan Alda and Tracy Pollan, among others) into shape and “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” as he tried them out “out of town” in North Carolina, and got a kick out of his craftsmanship, his quick way with a “fix” — another funnier line to replace a less funny one.
A master of the one-liner, not terrible at plotting, and a man who never gave up on what he thought was a good idea — reworking failed shows into plays that made it to Broadway. Tony, Emmy, Golden Globe and Mark Twain and Pulitzer Prize recognition came his way. He was a man of his moment and of a lot of Broadway moments.
Not generally to my taste, but maybe he just wore me (and a lot of critics) out. Still, a funny guy to fly-on-the-wall and watch work. And “God’s Favorite,” about a modern day Job, is still a hoot, my favorite of all his plays.