Neil Simon is an American playwright and screenwriter. He is considered one of the best comedy writers in the American literature, and one of the most successful playwrights in the history of Broadway. He is an author of more than thirty plays and almost of the same number of screenplays, most of which were adaptations of his own works. In 1973, Simon wrote the play The Good Doctor in the genre of literary editing. The play can characterize the main features and elements of Simon’s writing style and genre.
Neil Simon was born on July 4, 1927, in Bronx, New York in a Jewish family. His father, Simon Irving, was a clothes seller, and his mother, Mamie Simon, was a housewife. Simon also had an eight years older brother Danny. The writer spent his childhood in New York during the Great Depression. Financial problems of the family have adversely affected the marriage of his parents. As a result, Neil Simon described his childhood as unhappy. He often used to hide from family problems in cinemas, watching comedy movies with Charlie Chaplin. According to Simon, the films inspired him to become a comic author. When he was 16 years old young man, Simon graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School. After graduation, he served in the Air Force of the US Army.
Neil Simon began his career writing scripts for radio and television with his brother Danny Simon. Later, they were invited to Sid Cesar’s popular show Your Show of Shows. Eventually, Cesar offered Simon to work for his new show Caesar’s Hour. In his TV show career, Neal Simon was twice nominated for an Emmy. He noted that the two works were crucial for his future career. In 1959, Phil Silvers hired him to write scripts for Sergeant Bilko in The Phil Silvers Show.
Neil Simon’s theater career started with the play Come Blow Your Horn, which was his first Broadway play. The Brooks Atkinson Theatre demonstrated the staged play 678 times during 1961. It took Simon three years to write the script, because, he was at the same time working on scripts for TV shows. In the writer’s own words, he had to rewrite the play from beginning to end more than twenty times.
Plays Barefoot in the Park and The Odd Couple, for which Simon received the Tony Award, earned him nationwide fame. Subsequent Simon’s works had a great success. In the 1970s, he wrote a series of successful plays, sometimes shown simultaneously. His subjects ranged from romantic comedies to more serious dramas. Overall, Neil Simon was nominated for Tony 17 times and won three of awards.
Simon also made an adaptation of the materials created by other writers, including musical Little Me, which was based upon the novel by Patrick Deniss; musical Light Charity from the scenario by Federico Fellini; musical Promises, Promises on Billy Wilder’s film Apartment.
The writer’s career in filmmaking was also great. Neil Simon wrote more than twenty scripts for films. Both adaptation of his pieces and original works were in the list. He was nominated for Oscar four times. Although most of his films were successful, he noted that they were always less important than the plays.
Simon decided not to write the script for adaptation for the movie for his first play Come Blow Your Horn, but to concentrate on writing plays. However, the film disappointed the author, and since then he tried to control the process of screening. His first scripts were exact replicas of the play. Simon explained it by his weak interest in the filmmaking.
Neil Simon was married five times. His first wife is Joan Baym, dancer, whom he married in 1953, and who died of cancer in 1973. In the same year, the writer married actress Marsha Mason, with whom he divorced in 1981. In 1987-1988 and 1990-1998, he was twice married to Diana Lander. In 1999, he married actress Elaine Joyce. Simon has three children: daughters Ellen and Nancy from his first marriage, and Diana Lander’s daughter Bryn, which he adopted.
Overview of the Writing Style and Genre
Neil Simon is a supporter of the certain literary genre. His literary pieces are funny and warm plays, which reveal understandable problems. Simon’s plays are mostly autobiographical and often depict different aspects of his early years and early marriages. He confirmed the fact. All the stories of his plays, except two, are taking place in New York. Also, his plays are often the stories of marital conflict, which sometimes contain stories of betrayal, the rivalry between children, youth, heavy losses and the fear of aging. In his comedies, marriage relationships are often depicted as always involving difficulties that sometimes lead to separation, divorce, and fighting for custody of the children. Typical end of the stories is a restore of the relationship after many twists of the plot.
The creative process, as stated by Simon, first involves creating a mental image of the characters before writing. According to the writer, The Star-Spangled Girl was the only play that had a bad box office, because he began to write before having a clear image of the characters. According to Susan Koprins, Simon in the image of literary heroes used the same style as ancient Greek playwright Menander. The characters portrayed are usually imperfect, not prone to heroism, but decent people.
The Good Doctor
In 1974, at the peak of his Broadway career, Neil Simon wrote the play The Good Doctor based on the stories of Anton Chekhov’s. It is a manifestation of the new interest in the Russian writer. It premiered in November 1973 at the O’Neill Theatre in New York under the direction of George Entuna. While writing comedy for the general public based on Russian classic literature, Simon did not succumb to the effects of intellectual fashion. The secret of the rare popularity of The Good Doctor is in Simon’s ability to connect a typical situation with unique individual character, which becomes a source of comedy. Simon has chosen only the most interesting moments of the classic works by Chekhov, which is the best theater classic writer from Eastern Europe.
The separate scenes are united by the narrator-writer, in which one can guess Simon and Chekhov’s Trigorin. Above the external bravado, it is easy to read uncertainty, doubt, and reflection of the writer. Three years before The Good Doctor, Simon released his first collection of plays, the foreword to which was called “Portrait of the Writer as a Schizophrenic.” It also has reference to Simon’s love and admiration of Chekhov. In fact, the play’s success is not attributable to Simon’s superficiality, but, on the contrary, to the unchanged reference of the play to real everyday life, which is comprehensible and understandable to all people.
The Good Doctor presents the scenes from the life and excerpts from the works of Anton Chekhov. The play is an amazing story of the penetration of the artist in the world of his imagination, which is dynamic and emotional, sometimes even outright. The play tells the story of the artist as a phenomenon: the painter, actor, musician, dancer or just a person. He momentarily becomes alien to the world and goes into another dimension, the world of his imagination, which is more colorful than everyday life.
Characters of The Good Doctor
The main character is involved and tells the story as the narrator. Doctor-writer is an artist, who travels through own imagination. He seems to be elusive. He appears in one or the other scene, and becomes a bystander of the actions in the other scene. Although almost all elements are copied from the works of Chekhov, some adjustments are introduced by the English-language writer. The Good Doctor gathers the characters from the Chekhov’s novels The Death of the Official in the episode “The Sneeze” in the play. The story of Simon introduces the man from Chekhov’s Drowned in an episode “The Drowned Man”. Chekhov’s unnamed woman is Daphne in An Enigmatic Nature. A special interest is the metamorphoses of the surname of the character in Horsey Name.
The Body of Work of The Good Doctor
The question of the writer’s body of work can be considered in two directions. The play is a kind of anthology composed of short sketches and scenes, from which Simon once started his theatrical path. However, each fragment is a separate history and life situation. Each of them has its unique storyline theme and particular problem. Thus, Neil Simon has not just rewritten the stories once published by Chekhov. On the contrary, Chekhov can be perceived as a household name, a symbol of the heavy-sensitive aristocratic Russian art, which only can cause laugh from a respectful distance. His stories can be seen as something hopelessly outdated, insignificant in comparison with the pragmatic rhythms of modern life. Simon expands and transforms the eternal themes of the works by Chekhov, bringing the playwright to the modern world. Therefore, Chekhov continues to attract the reader with the new spiritual scale.
Simon was able to understand the genius of the Russian writer and the problems he wanted to present. On the basis of Chekhov literature, he managed to produce a great work. Thus, The Good Doctor demonstrates how the audience and critics in the United States imagine Chekhov: a smart professional, whose specialty is sad and funny situations and slapstick comedy. However, Simon has showed the irony of Chekhov, his objectivity, the exact ratio of the comic and sad, which are accustomed to strong feelings in the best way.
Principal Themes and Problems of The Good Doctor
Discussing the theme and the main motive of The Good Doctor, Neal Simon said that while working on it he was thinking how sad and ridiculous life is. He could not imagine a humorous situation that does not involve some pain. In the play, he wondered about ridiculous situations. At the same time, he searched for a way to present sad situation in the funny way. The very text of The Good Doctor contains the answers to the questions, since, despite the seriousness of the subjects of the piece, Simon describes the cases with humor. In his words, he almost always wrote the drama that was ridiculous and was about real people.
Simon was able to express the main Chekhov’s concern: the inner contrast of the author’s vision and the world. Reality always appears in The Good Doctor first ironically, then as a ghost in a tragic face of boredom, pointlessness, cruelty. Although the meaning of life is lost, the music continues to sound, illusions are created, and compassion exists.
Humor is a thin and versatile item that may be clear even for speakers of different languages. Images and the dialogue are drawn in a way that, by the end of the story, the characters are perceived as real people. The technique creates a visual picture of the story.
In the stories, stupidity, ignorance, rudeness, respect for rank and boasting are derided. The object of ridicule is a little man, for example, a minor official, who is in constant disarray because of his ignorance.
The Difficulties of Genre
Merge of Chekhov and Simon distorted the nature of the two writers. Chekhov became more comical and farcical, and Simon was pale and uncertain. Moreover, short sketches created difficulties for the actors, because they did not give an opportunity to reveal the subtlety and depth of the original. A common mistake in the American productions of Russian drama lies in equating the pre-revolutionary Russian life to a life of Eastern European Jews. The reason might be that a large percentage of the first wave immigrants from Russia to the United States were Jews. The Good Doctor is heavily affected because by the migration aspect. Heroes of the many plays presented by Simon are Jews. The characters and the position of the author never bear the features of national narrow-mindedness and certain sectarianism. Jewish humor and Jewish wisdom always stained plays with sad elements. However, giving a special flavor and atmosphere, the genre or adaptation of Russian classic literature and the attempts to incorporate it into American culture have rather a negative impact.
Critics on The Good Doctor
The Good Doctor by Neal Simon received mixed reviews. Many critics noted the author comedic talent. The story was even called one of the best plays of the season by New York critics. However, others have given less favorable reviews. Thus, in most cases, the public perceived it as commercially successful, but not the talented play. A well-known theater critic Clive Barnes wrote that the fate of Neil Simon was to be undervalued, though very popular, for almost the entire career. However, the attitude has changed after 1991, when his play Lost in Yonkers received the Pulitzer Prize for best drama.
Simon is one of the most popular commercial playwrights of the United States. He is a master of wit and situation comedy. The author’s play The Good Doctor is an example of how Chekhov can be understandable and interesting in the context of the modern American society.