16 November, 2018
27 August, 2018
In 1969, William Goldman put out one of the Bibles about Broadway -- The Season (chronicling '67-'68) -- in which he notes, "Everyone knows that Neil Simon is a popular playwright, but not everyone knows just how popular a playwright Neil Simon is. This is just counting shows that have opened on Broadway in the sixties. Simon has had more performances than Edward Albee, Tennessee Williams, William Inge, Arthur Miller, Harold Pinter, John Osborne and Richard Rodgers all put together." (Underlining mine.)
Take that in a moment. Good? Okay.
It's February of 1968 and here comes Plaza Suite which, for the purposes of this little write-up, is three short plays all taking place in the same suite at The Plaza Hotel; the third of which is "Visitor From Mamaroneck" which has George C. Scott and Maureen Stapleton as a married couple in trouble. And, in Goldman's words again, "is not only the best of the three and the best thing Simon has yet written, it is the watershed moment of his career."
Why? More from Goldman: "Simon writes sunny. That, I think, is the main reason why he is so beyond-words successful; there is a sunny quality to his work, and you feel good when it's over. Not smarter; not cleansed; just good. And even though his thoughts are filled with shadows, his writing landscape is always bright.
"'Mamaroneck,' then, is so crucial to his development; the man can go on doing 'entertainment pieces' till the world looks level. The question is, will he? Or will he continue in the same direction as the first tentative step taken here? God knows it is tentative; it was all he could do to end the play enigmatically, without some kind of contrived happy ending.
"The morning after Plaza Suite opened, I was down at the theatre trying to look casual while moronically counting the number of people in line [to buy tickets] when a camel-coated figure in sunglasses walked quietly by the crowd and headed for the stage door at the Plymouth [the theatre housing the play]. It was Simon. No one noticed him as we stood there talking, more and more people queuing up as we talked. I wondered if the line was the biggest he'd ever had for one of his plays. He took off his sunglasses and watched the people a moment. 'I think Odd Couple. It's like Odd Couple.'
"I asked him how the [Plaza Suite] opening had gone and he said, "We stood backstage ("we" being Simon and [Director] Mike Nichols) and we said we just couldn't hope for a better reaction. The best it ever got.
"We shook hands and said good-bye and he started into the Plymouth. Then he stopped; turned back to me: 'You know, [the New York Times Critic Clive] Barnes didn't like it.' (Get this now: here is a man who, with the opening of the night before, has earned anywhere between $1,000,000 and $4,000,000 [you do the math on what that means in today's dollars], who had brought in the third blockbuster of a seven-year career in a decade when no other active writer has had more than one. If ever a Broadway figure had the world by the short hairs, this is the man, and what's on his mind and genuinely troubling him is that the most important critic in the city found his first attempt at a serious work a failure.) We said good-bye again, and he slipped unnoticed into the theatre."
Me again, just so you're aware: Critics were all over the map with "is Plaza Suite good, is it too serious, is it too new, is it Simon?"
Goldman again: "Reports kept coming in while Plaza Suite was out of town that audiences simply could not stop laughing, whether they were supposed to or not. It was Neil Simon, goddamit, and they were gonna laugh. After Plaza Suite opened, he was asked about this. 'It's true. Night after night we took out laugh after laugh. It got so insane: there was a moment in 'Mamaroneck' where George said something to Maureen, gestured, turned and walked to the door, and they laughed. We cut the line; he just gestured, walked to the door. They wouldn't stop laughing. Finally we had him go straight to the door, and they laughed at that. I don't know; [Elia] Kazan and [Jerome] Robbins, they don't work Broadway any more. It's so crazy: I hate it when they knock me, and I hate it when they say 'Fantastic.'"
Me again: I've had the pleasure -- honor -- of meeting and having conversations with and even working with some real talent, true talent, a lot of them celebrities. Never met Mr. Simon and I genuinely feel it's one of the great misses. And when I heard of his passing yesterday, this piece in Goldman's Book was the first thing I thought of. Because I love the moment he talks about it being one of the biggest openings ever yet Mr. Simon can't get the leading critic out of his head. And how Simon took a risk. And how he was down at the theatre the day after opening night to see how everything was going (and, likely, to tweak to keep making it better; one of the true beauties of Theatre over Film). And even though I love -- still laugh out loud at -- Sandy Dennis' Out-Of-Towners church moment, it was this Goldman Write-Up I really wanted to share. So, yeah, I'll close with more Goldman. You remember him standing there outside The Plymouth looking at the line for tickets? Let him paint it thusly, because I don't think Mr. Simon -- even with yesterday's passing -- will ever really be out of town again ...
"At 9:50 A.M. there were 43 people standing in line. At 9:55 there were 50. A digger -- someone who buys large numbers of seats in advance for himself or, more usually, an illegal broker -- was at the head of the line, buying a ton of seats, slowing things up. Finally, he left, and the next man in line asked for two seats for a Saturday night. 'April 13 is the next Saturday night I have open,' the box-office man said. This was February.
"At 11:25 there were 150 people in line. Now, understand, this isn't Radio City Music Hall. You don't get in for the next show; there's no instant gratification here. These people were standing there knowing they would have to be content with the future.
"At 11:30 a man bought two tickets and left. He had waited in line 90 minutes to make the purchase. But the line was only 50 people long when he started; now it was triple that. At 1:15 there were still 150 people in line. (There was only one box-office window open. There are two box-office windows at the Plymouth, but if you open them both, you can obviously handle the crowd twice as fast, and the line will disappear in half the time. And since that's exactly what you don't want -- the line to disappear -- you keep only one window open.)
"It was a sunny February afternoon and the people in line didn't care how long it might take them to get up to the box-office window; three hours, maybe five. They were well dressed, most of them -- men with briefcases, women with children in strollers -- and they were perfectly content to stand there, waiting for their turn to buy tickets for the first real blockbuster play to hit Broadway in 798 days.
"Neil Simon was back in town."
15 September, 2017
If it looks familiar, it’s been used in a bunch of Movies and TV Shows, most recently -- inside and out -- where Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone see Rebel Without A Cause in La La Land. First off, I should mention that The Rialto -- while not nearly as restored as The Chinese or Egyptian or U.A. (now The Ace) -- is a charming place (it has since been reopened as a Church). After a quick tour by Mr. Norton himself, he took us Backstage where there were stacks … and stacks … and stacks … of tan theatre seats. And some blue ones? No, they were all blue, those tan ones were just dusty. And I should note they weren’t even seats yet, but stacked in pieces: a “bottom,” a “back” and four times as many “arms.” What were we dealing with, looking at, looking for? Mr. Norton had been nice enough to put one together so we could see.
As I was standing there looking at the stacks of theatre seat pieces, it was the first time Fred Allen began ringing in my ear. How long had these pieces been sitting here? Collecting what all over them; what was living in them? Mr. Norton said, “Been sitting in here nearly seventy years, ever since they were pulled out of Downtown.” That rang in Diana’s and my ear too. “Excuse me … Downtown?” “Oh sure,” Mr. Norton continued: “These weren’t used here in The Rialto, but pulled out of a Theatre Downtown and then stored here, right where you’re looking at ‘em. Haven’t been touched since.”
I tried sounding casual but it likely came out as Henry Aldrich: "Which theatre?" Mr. Norton didn't know, didn't think anyone did anymore, just that the seats were likely switched out in the economic boom after World War II. Still trying for the casual but I'm sure it was Henry Aldrich again: "You don't say!" as Diana and I started digging a little deeper into the dust.
What’s that piece there, is that a good bottom? And that, is that a good back? Here are couple good arms. Hey look, the arms are numbered! We should try to find arms in order!
By this time there were more people there, talking to Mr. Norton and starting to look for their own seats. How many were Diana and I looking for? Hadn't really thought about that yet. We decided on four, so that meant four bottoms, four backs and (quick thinking) six arms, in case we wanted to pair the seats in twos instead of four-in-a-row.
See the way they curve? Well, what does that mean for our seats? The arms seemed universal but the physical bodies -- bottoms and backs -- would indeed be wider in the middle and become gradually thinner as they got to the sides. Uh oh. What sizes did we come home with? Turns out three different ones.
This is one of Diana’s and my adventures -- now Diana’s and Nicky’s and mine -- I especially love because of how tangible it is. Diana and I have both always wanted real theatre seats. (What kid growing up loving Movies hasn’t?) But where would we get some? What theatre is left from which we could? Would we have to buy them; if so, for how much; $500, $1000 each? And, ugh, they’d already be refurbished, and who knows where they were from, what their story was. Nah, that’s not for us. So to be able to have these; to have been able to walk into an actual theatre and find them, build them -- thanks again, Steve! -- know they came from a theatre in Downtown L.A. To now see them sitting in our home, and see Nicky play on them; to enjoy them together. Yeah, that’s more “us.”
17 May, 2017
Joss Whedon made a Short Film.
Those words should be cause for grand cheering (and they are) but they’re also cause for me to write a little something more on The Quiet Place. You remember the last time we were here, two years ago. That wasn’t because of a Short Film but because he’d made the $250 Million -- grossed $1.5 Billion -- Avengers: Age Of Ultron and some people had issue with the way he treated its ladies. I only digress to that because it caused him to leave Twitter for a while. Then, in September , he returned to Social Media to release a round of Short Films about Voting (yes, against Trump, but mostly just, “Get out there and do it.”) These were cheered grandly and life seemed to move on (as well as it has given November). Then, just recently, some people felt he stepped into it again with a Tweet about Paul Ryan (this is the least Alt Right one I could find) and another on Mother's Day (ditto). Much like the issue with Age Of Ultron, the fervor was bonfired by people that don’t know Whedon too well -- if at all -- and, well, mountains from molehills. Of Paul Ryan and his Mother, Whedon himself said, “I tweeted something that inadvertently offended everyone except the people I was trying to offend. I'm sorry. I'll be quiet for a bit.” (And I only link to all this so you have full disclosure. I can’t rightfully support or condemn without acknowledging.) In any event, grand cheering or not, life moved on again.
To just this morning when Joss Whedon released his new Short Film, this time in support of Planned Parenthood. It’s beautiful and poignant and heartbreaking and hopeful -- and, PS, has no Dialogue -- and is the kind of thing we expect from him while still being
Because the answer is a lot of people. More significantly, there are a lot of shits to give.
So why do I care what Joss Whedon has to say? Because, once again, he came out of The Quiet Place. After Ultron and his Save The Day Campaign and the recent Twitter hits -- and, yes, still with a career and wife and children to consider -- he showed up. Full disclosure again, I am a fan and have worked with him. But none of that matters as much as the dude doesn’t need to say anything but still does. He doesn’t need to make Short Films about Voting (on his own time, on his own dime) but he did. He doesn’t need to make a Short Film about Planned Parenthood (ditto) but he did. More significantly than “he can,” he knows he’s going to get flack for it and does it anyway. You and I post something on Facebook? We start a chit chat among our friends. Joss Whedon posts something and -- they like it -- his (“nearing a deal”) upcoming Batgirl gets a boost at the box office. They don’t like it? Warner Bros gets death threats (and, worse than that, Batgirl doesn’t do well at the box office). He knows this, is fully steeped in the consequences (not to mention berated by his PR People for doing it) yet, still, there he is. And not quietly at all. For me, I'm grateful there are still Celebrities using their stages -- and time and money -- to say such things; to do something about their causes. Doesn’t matter if you agree. Joss Whedon says it because he needs to. And -- as I was driving into work this morning I thought -- that’s something to cheer.